I have a good young friend who bought a Chinese chicken at the same time his mother bought ten beautiful leghorn chickens. Bella looked different. She was white and all the other chickens were large and had beautiful reddish colored feathers. She was small and had feathers growing out the top of her head and on her feet! Bella acted differently, too. She was timid and scared. As the weeks passed, Bella struggled to fit in with these confident, pushy leghorns. My friend began to relate to her and finally he told me, “I’ve bonded with Bella.” But, Bella had most definitely not bonded with her leghorn roommates. Bella continued to try and find her place in this chicken coop.
One evening my friend came home to find Bella’s eyes pecked out by the other chickens. She was bloody and sick. My friend and his mother took Bella inside away from the other chickens so she could heal. When she healed, she was now a one-eyed, disabled chicken with less confidence and even more timid than before. My friend’s mom has decided to buy her another male Chinese Chicken to help “protect” her from the leghorns. This chapter is yet to unfold.
I’ve learned a lot from Bella the Chinese chicken. She reminds me of the children with which I work. Children with AS enter school as children who struggle to find their way around the “chicken coop” of the school environment. When they start school they aren’t disabled, but they do think and act differently. They often are timid, anxious and afraid. Sometimes this anxiety manifests as bravado, inflexibility and aggression. And just like Bella, bad things happen to them. Other “chickens peck their eyes out,” too. And after enough eye-pecking, they do end up disabled. Some very disabled—now with multiple labels.
So, just like Bella our children with AS don’t actually start as disabled as they end up. The true “disability” comes from the years of having their “eyes pecked out” by other children and sometimes even adults.
In looking back I wish I could have thought of other ways to protect Bella, but chickens will be chickens. We are human. We are adults. We CAN protect children who think differently. We CAN accept children who think differently. We CAN include children who think differently. We CAN work to change attitudes. Let’s stop talking and let’s do it! I work every day to do that. You CAN too!