Dear Carolyn Hax: Thank You

I was so pleased when s.e. brought Carolyn Hax’s advice to a grandparent of an autistic girl to my attention.

Here’s a clip of the letter Carolyn is responding to:

The mother of my grandgirls is making life a problem. The middle girl is extremely autistic and has not been taught the social rules we all need. That means it is extremely hard to take her anywhere. She is manageable in the car, taken out to a fast food restaurant and back home. But she is not social enough to take to a store or overnight. The parents think we should be able to take her overnight and anywhere we take the other girls.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Appearing Normal, children are not unaware of these sorts of situations, and they do have long-term consequences. Carolyn doesn’t pull any punches:

If it already hasn’t screamed its way off the page, here’s where I’m going with these questions: There are ways you can show an interest in including Jane, and if you haven’t tried them, then you’re the one who is making life a problem. You can ask your daughter to teach you her strategies for bringing Jane on successful outings, or, if you’ve learned those already, then you can admit that Jane overwhelms you and ask for outing ideas that are a notch above McDonald’s that can build your confidence with her. Then you can take Jane with you, one-on-one, for as many of these outings as you take the other girls.

Basically: Stop treating your grandchild like a problem to be solved. The problem here is not “Jane”.

In my experience, situations like this one are pretty common, and not just in family members. It’s easier to just… not invite or plan for the wheelchair-user than it is to be limited to the small number of places they can go. It’s easier not to include things that can be helpful to people who are disabled than it is to contact people with disabilities and find out what their needs are.

I’m really glad to read Carolyn Hax calling that shit out for what it is.

I really recommend reading the whole thing.

By 6 April, 2010.    Dear Imprudence   



6 Comments

  1. In one of her chats, Carolyn called someone out for making nasty assumptions about why people take the elevator instead of the stairs, pointing out that you can’t look at someone and see whether or not they were disabled. I totally sent her fanmail for being so awesome for saying that.

  2. This is really strong and useful advice, and I also like that Hax signaled (while continuing to maintain a polite level of discourse) that she was angry on the child’s behalf. I would have been tempted to write WHARGARBL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU YOU ARE A VERY ABLIST PERSON AND A BAD GRANDMOTHER but this is why I am not an advice columnist.

  3. @Kao: I know! Her column on this just made my week. I’m still looking for a way to send her an internet ;).

  4. This is lovely. I am so glad to see an advice columnist being awesome (particularly if, as Kao suggests, she has a history of being so). It is refreshing!

  5. Regarding the chat call-out Kao mentions, I particularly liked that Carolyn didn’t back down. After that first interchange, there was a later interchange with a reader writing in to say, basically, “So when IS it okay for me to get judgmental about somebody?” Carolyn’s answer was, essentially, “NEVER. You don’t know their story, you don’t know their experience, and you’re not inside their head — so, NEVER.”

    Yay, Carolyn Hax. She’s about the only advice columnist I can stand to read these days. When I read others, I generally wind up going “NO YOU ARE WRONG AND YOUR UNEXAMINED ASSUMPTIONS ARE HARMFUL AND OFFENSIVE”. Argh.

  6. @Joselle Carolyn’s e-mail address is tellme@washpost.com.