The Intersection of Failure and Competence
Yesterday, I received an email from a teacher. I cried quite a bit because the insinuations were pretty clear. We’re not doing “enough” to support our child. But as I talked about it with my husband, my mother, my friends, it became clear that what was happening was simple. My child is capable of manipulation. We’ve known this for a while. We’ve had to tell people that he’s manipulating them.
I remember being questioned, “Well, do you really think he’s capable of that level of manipulation?” I chuckled and said yes.. Yes, because he is. And as I’ve talked to my friends more, it’s made me realize something. My son is not being given the chance to fail AND he’s not seen as being competent enough to manipulate. Basically, institutionalized ableism has allow my child to manipulate pretty much every staff member he’s come into contact with.
When my boys were younger, I remember being told several times that they weren’t capable of manipulation. I remember even a few years ago being blasted on my own Facebook because I dared say that my other son had schemed the system to not only have breakfast, but second breakfast, and a snack, and lunch, and another snack, and then an after school snack before dinner on top of being given edible reinforcers throughout the school day. I was told that hunger was not a manipulation.. That person was right.. Hunger is not manipulation.. However saying, “I’m huuuuuuungry.” just to have people give you more food is manipulation. If my children were overweight, you know what? It’d be seen for what it is.. It’s just because they have a small stature that it’s seen as true hunger.
And why shouldn’t a 9… 10… 11… 12 yr old be capable of manipulation? Just because they have autism? No. If you say that, then you’re infantilizing them. You’re saying that they are not capable of doing something very very basic.. Learn that actions have consequences and sometimes those consequences can work in their favor.. And more importantly, that they can reproduce the actions to get those favorable consequences.
But then, this situation, it’s more than that. There’s an element of not letting a child fail. If my child was a non-disabled student, if he didn’t have an IEP, he’d be allowed to fail. I’m not talking about failing his classes (though, that happens too in some cases). But simple things. “Oh you forgot your folder? I’m sorry, but I’m not going to call your mom to bring it.” “Oh. You forgot your snack? I’m sorry. Why don’t you write yourself a note to remember it tomorrow?” “Oh. Your homework is not done. I guess you’ll need to miss recess like any other student to complete it.”
While I recognize these are all executive functioning problems, the reality is that without letting him fail, you (and he) will never come up with real workable solutions. Instead, when coupled with the infantilization from before, you’ve allowed him to deceive you. Because the result isn’t that he’s learning ways to remember his belongings. The result is that he’s learning if he forgets or “forgets”, he gets something even better. There is no innate incentive to grow or learn or remember. It’s a disservice to him…
And let’s be real… insinuations that parents aren’t doing enough are rude without knowing what we’re actually doing.