“Are You Even Capable of Running This Program?” : A Response by Sonia Boue.

Argeles Sur Mer 1939, Soue Boue

Argeles Sur Mer 1939, Soue Boue


Last week, the sister of one of our students verbally assaulted me at an IEP meeting by callously questioning my ability to direct our transition program because I’m autistic. I wrote about the incident here as a way to both conceptualize the incident for myself, and to use the incident to open up dialogues around ableism, neurodiversity and neurotypical privilege. I am grateful to everyone who took time to comment, but the most amazing response came from my friend Sonia Boue, which I am honored to share here:

From Sonia Boue:

Life is full of painful moments. None more so than when disability is mocked or cruelly disrespected. Ableism is a new word I begin to grapple with as I move closer to an understanding of my own neurological differences and listen to the rich and invaluable online community of autistic and neurodiverse advocates. So, within days of writing about the importance of language as a container for social bias, I find myself here again, in a space where words matter so much, speaking out.

In my artistic practice where I explore visual responses to the history of the Spanish Civil War, I constantly encounter the notion of witness. I am learning how very important it is to those who suffer injustice that we stand by and show our solidarity. I’ve come to understand quite deeply that silence is not good enough. Silence is complicity. Silence allows injustice to continue. Silence kills the spirit of the victim, which is not only unjust but ultimately dehumanises us all.

So when I read Brent’s powerful voice soaring with rightful yet contained and articulate anger in his blog I feel a sense of pride at his control, which is joined by my outrage and the knowledge that I must stand by. I cannot be silent. I was not at that IEP table when the offending words were spoken, but I am right there now. I imagine the scene and work out what I trust I would have been able to say. Shock of course is the first reaction, a violation has taken place. I trust I would have found the resources to move beyond this. I trust my voice would have remained steady. I trust I could have looked this person in the eye and told her of my immense respect for Brent and his extraordinary qualifications to work with intellectually disabled youth. Don’t you read the ACAT FaceBook posts, I would ask? Don’t you see how Brent finds positive attributes in your loved one at every single turn? I see his posts and I see the immense respect Brent has for his young charges. Why can’t you see it?

I guess what this person is doing is living in ignorance and we must hope with all our hearts that being as she is both a relative and professional she will arrive at some important realisations soon. Sadly, encounters such as these tell us what we most fear, that some neurotypicals will arrive at our table from a vantage point that is monocultural – I call this Animal Farm thinking, a distressing polarity exists in which NT is ‘good’ and autism is ‘bad’. If we unpick the particular abusive phrase in all it’s un-glory, “I heard a rumour that you have Asperger’s. Are you even capable of running this program?” we begin to arrive at the grisly truth. ‘Rumour’ suggests something clandestine and to be ashamed of when Brent is openly and proudly autistic. ‘Are you even capable’ gets at the heart of it all. This viewpoint cannot allow that disability can be multi-faceted when the truth is that we all have the jewel-like potential to shine where there is light. With ignorance, there is only darkness. A darkness that cannot allow for the notion of competence within disability.

With a heavy sigh I examine this situation and find that the only way to grasp what I’m looking for is to turn the whole thing upside down. The abusive words of two days ago came from a place of deep incompetence masquerading as it’s opposite. The viewpoint expressed is blinkered by an unacknowledged ‘privilege’ which comes from ‘belonging’ to the dominant neuro-normative culture. This perspective makes this person unqualified to see that it is because of Brent’s Asperger’s that he is supremely capable of designing and directing a program that truly touches and transforms the young people under his care. Those of us who are neurodiverse know that through our own struggles we gain experiences that can be worth gold. Nothing matches the perspective you get from having to work things out for yourself in an environment that is often unhelpful and even hostile to difference. This wisdom can and must be passed on.

This lady needs to leave her ‘Animal Farm’ thinking far behind her and get down to the vastly rich neurodiverse city to be found right here online. Within it’s sparkling lights so many brilliantly competent minds shine.

(The painting shown above relates to the struggle of Spanish refugees to survive in the hostile French internment camps after their flight from Spain. It is in our most painful experiences that the gold of wisdom lies. The painting is intended to symbolise strength, courage and determination.)

2 Responses to “Are You Even Capable of Running This Program?” : A Response by Sonia Boue.

  1. raspycricket says:

    Beautifully said, Sonia!

  2. Pingback: Adult Autism and Program Leadership: Yes, It’s a Big Deal. | ACAT: Ala Costa Adult Transition Program

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