Monday, May 01, 2006

My Husband The Hemorrhoid

Some years ago, Hubby and I attended a PEP meeting. PEP (Parents Encouraging Parents) is a wonderful support resource for families with children who have disabilities. After the program, there was juice and cookies for all, and lots of mingling so that we parents could meet and hopefully find our soul mates in support.

With kids in tow, we worked the room with the other families, thanking the speakers, making comments on the points brought up and introducing ourselves.

We met Marsha (not her real name), who enthusiastically shook our hands.

"And this is my son, Jason (not his real name either). He's ADD!!" ADD is Attention Deficit Disorder for those who've crashed on a deserted island with only a soccer ball named Wilson for company and haven't been in the loop for the last couple of decades.

This was one of those supremely awkward moments I think we all experience at least once in our lives. When it happened to me, all I could do was gape. In hindsight, I've played this scenario over and over in my mind, trying to perfect the ideal snappy answer. Now I stalk through life just hunting for potential Marshas to cross my path. I'm loaded for bear.

When did it become acceptable to introduce our children by their physical and/or mental capabilities? When did it become the norm to define our children by a condition? I can't think of any moment in a polite and civilized society where we would treat another adult this way.

"Hi, I'd like you to meet my friend Betty. She's a toe fungus!" Blech.

Our youngest son has a lot of wonderful and unique qualities. He has sparkly blue eyes, an extremely literal and quirky sense of humor, and has an extensive memory for even the smallest of details. He likes mashed potatoes. He doesn't like bare feet, even his own. He also has autism. It doesn't define him as a person. It's not who he IS. It's something he HAS.

Now don't get me wrong. Obviously everyone is entitled to define themselves in any way they wish. I just can't help but get my knickers in a knot when one person uses these terms to refer to another. Unfortunately, parents seem to be the worst offenders. And it makes me wonder why.

Kathie Snow, a parent, speaker, and activist writes in her excellent article People First Language:

'Many parents say, "I have a child with special needs." This term generates pity, as demonstrated by the, "Oh, I'm so sorry," response, a sad look, or a sympathetic pat on the arm. (Gag!) A person's needs aren't "special" to him---they're ordinary. I've never met an adult with a disability who wanted to be called "special." Let's learn from those with real experience, and stop inflicting this pity-laden descriptor on others.'

Of course, the people who care for our children should be aware of what their necessities are. Teachers, doctors, therapists, family members, day-care providers, etc, are definitely on the "need to know" list. The strangers standing at the grocery check-out curiously watching your kid count the feet of sockless people are not.

Ms. Snow also writes:

'Besides, the diagnosis is nobody's business! Have individuals with disabilities given us permission to share their personal information with others? If not, how dare we violate their trust!'

Have we come to the point as parents where we no longer see our children as individual people, but only as extensions of ourselves? Would we treat another person outside our family with the same kind of disrespect? It's a tough question.

So I've decided that the next time a potential Marsha introduces me to her child and says "He's ADD/Autistic/Mentally Retarded", etc, I'm going to shake her hand.

Then I'm going to turn to my much beloved and beleaguered spouse and say, "I'd like you to meet my husband. He's a hemorrhoid."

I mean you've got to make a stand somewhere.


Debbie Cakes said...

Hi! My name's Debbie! I'm a Manic/Depressive!

What the f**k?

Some really good points there, unfortunately the people who need the points pointed out to them probably won't be reading it, or even be able to understand it for that matter.

Unknown said...

You are hilarious. I keep saying it but you are hilarious. Do you do stand up comedy by any chance? You should.

petunia said...

I really like your blog - and it seems I'm always reading yours as you make a comment on mine - weird!
My nephew has autism too (along with Tourettes and even though we don't say it, when we are in public I want to be able to tell people why his behavior is the way it is....i hate for him that people stare. Maybe it's vanity and the parents don't want other people to think they are just bad parents......not a good excuse but....

Nikki said...

Attila - I have been reading your blog for sometime now. I have read this piece before. I don't know what to say about this peice, but I do want to comment on your blog in general terms. I absolutely love your blog. Your humourous eloquence strikes me, and many others that come here. Thank you for blogging.

Attila the Mom said...

Nikki---thanks! That's so nice of you to say!

I enjoy your blog as well. :-)

Rhonda said...

This was just as funny, poignant, true and disturbing as it was the first time around.

IMO, you've created the perfect and most memorable illustration of what is wrong with disability first language.

happykat said...

Hi there! My name is happykat and I'm a sexaholic. Pity me! :}

I have run into this before and I agree with your perspective.

Could it be she was addressing his problem b/c everyone was there to talk about those kinds of issues? Opening the door to conversation or something?

James Medhurst said...

I think to call your husband a haemorrhoid would be too long-winded for some people. Couldn't you call him Hemmy for short?

Charlie said...

'Many parents say, "I have a child with special needs." This term generates pity, as demonstrated by the, "Oh, I'm so sorry," response, a sad look, or a sympathetic pat on the arm. (Gag!)

I believe this is it in a nutshell.

We used to have a "friend" at church whose son was ADHD. She would talk about all of his problems right in front of the boy (who was 12) like he was invisible. To her, I believe, he was.

She wanted sympathy, but all I gave her was scorn.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Kim and I'm Depressed and have horrible PMS and I'm overweight with wide feet!

Holy cow!

This was a wonderful post. Like Debbie cakes said, you are probably preaching to the choir.

But you made the choir laugh while making the point!

I'm gonna use the hemmorhoid line, I swear.....

Me said...

WOw. This is one of those times when it hits me how truly powerful blogging has become. I mean, I never even stopped to consider that the fight against disabilism exists here in the U.S. In India, the laws still haven't caught up to aid and accommodate people with disabilities. It's catching up but we do have a long way to go. I loved your post and it really made me think. Thanks :)

Kathy Cullen said...


One of the things I like most about you, and there are a lot, is that you make me think. You also make me laugh, and for both I am so very thankful.

I don't know if I ever told you that I had known you for quite a long time before I even knew details about your youngest beyond his wit, his intelligence, his loving ways, his hobbies, etc. He is an amazing young man. One reason for that is...he just is, and another is that he has a wonderful mom who encourages him to be himself, without going through life making excuses and giving explanations for who he is.

No excuse or explanation is needed. It's a shame that not all parents realize that.

Anonymous said...

I think that a lot of parents talk about their kids as if they didnt have a voice of their own (as if they were their PR officers or something). Disabled or not, most kids would probably prefer to say hi or give a wave on their own. Hats off to you Attila!

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Attila. Right or wrong, I think we're all guilty at times of introducing our kids with "labels" or extra descriptors ("He hasn't taken a nap today" or "She's very shy") in order to explain away certain behaviors. We do it for ourselves, too ("I have PMS and am sooo bloated").

The woman you met at the disability conference might simply have been trying to connect with you. Who knows if she would have introduced her son the same way if you had met her at a playground? Let's hope not.

Mr. Fabulous said...

Have you been talking to my wife? Is this why she has taken lately to introducing me as an asshole?

abfh said...

Hi Attila. Thanks for your comment on my Blogging Against Disablism Day post. I got here by following the link from the comment back to your site.

This is the first time I've read your blog. I love the graphics (especially the asshat), and you have a great sense of humor.

As for this post, though...

I came here intending to write a nice friendly comment to reciprocate for your kind compliment on my blog. But after reading this post, the only thing that came to mind was a rant. A very long rant. It got too long to be posted here as a comment, and it ended up as an entry on my blog:

My Autism Is Not a Hemorrhoid

Please don't take it as a personal attack. It's meant as a criticism of people-first language in general.

Attila the Mom said...

ABFH---No offense taken at all. Everyone learns from each other. :-)

34quinn said...

I totally get this..and I totally agree with you ..I also can state the one thing that is almost worse.
I was recently talking to my mom and told her how I had reconnected with some of my public school chums.
I said I had found a girl named (T) and she quickly responded with a owe the cute little blonde girl with the big blue eyes..I said yes. then I told her I had also found (L) and her response was oh the little black negro girl..I was really angry ..I thought why do people do that. I mean when she described (T) she certainly didn't say the little white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes.
oh it just annoyes me when people label people by colour or by challenges they have.
thanks for hearing me vent.

Sassy said...

Well said! I have a son with special needs and I've never introduced him to people differently than I would my other children. I guess some people haven't got a clue. You rock!

girl said...

Oh gosh! The people that do that are just too boring to think of anything real to say. Urg!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!