I will not be silent

November 1, 2010 at 6:35 am 42 comments

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but please read through to the end. Just trust me.

November 1 is supposed to be a “communication shutdown” day in order to raise autism awareness. People are purposely not using facebook and email in order to mimic what it must be like to be autistic. Quite frankly, I find the whole exercise strange – for me, at least. My autistic child is at his communicative best on the telephone when there are no faces to distract him. I suspect someday he will be the same online, so I refuse to be electronically silent in order to raise awareness of autism. This is a time to speak up, not shut down!

The last time I was silent was a moment I will regret for the rest of my life. After being bullied, teased, and picked on for half of his second grade year, C’s teacher asked if I would be willing to allow someone to come in and speak to the class about him. She hoped to help the other kids understand why C talks too loudly, why he laughs at odd times, and why he just seems different – she hoped that the kids might gain some empathy.

When I look back on the entire “event,” I am amazed at my own naivete and silence. About the only thing done right was arranging for C to be out of the classroom during the discussion. Hindsight is 20/20, and now it almost appears as a great comedy of errors, with each tragic mistake piled on top of another to create the most incredible disaster I’ve known thus far in C’s life.

Once I found out who was going to do “the talk,” I should have stopped it right there. I knew the person, did not have a good feeling about him, and had never really connected with him during his tenure on C’s special education team. He told me I should not be there during the talk. C’s teacher told me I should be. I went. Yet I was silent.

I listened in the back of the room while the talk turned into a twenty-minute free for all discussion about why the kids didn’t like C. “Oh, I know, I know!” one little girl squealed, eagerly raising her hand to share as if it was some kind of contest she wanted to win. She spoke up 11 times. Yes, you read that right. Eleven times.

Still, I was silent.

I looked at C’s teacher across the room. Her head was down. I waited for her to speak up, to say anything. I was paralyzed while I waited for the presenter to turn it around, to get to the good part, to mitigate this disaster. I kept thinking he had to know what he was doing and he would fix it by the end. It would be okay. This couldn’t really be happening. I was silent.

As he wrapped it up – without making it okay – I sat there, silently planning ways I could get C out of the building before he came back to class. I thought about how I could never bring him back to school after this. How could he ever walk back in this building again? I fought back tears. I was silent.

I went into the hall to intercept C before he returned to class. The presenter caught up with me before I could find C and said, with an air of fake sympathy and a touch on the arm, “That’s why I didn’t want you to be there. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the truth, isn’t it?” I was silent. “Sometimes kids just need to vent,” he concluded as he turned and walked away, completely oblivious that I had not even responded.

I was silent then because I could not speak. I simply could not open my mouth because I knew that only tears would come out. I went back into the classroom to grab C, who had slipped by me while I was in the hall with the presenter. As I walked up to him, two boys bounced around C’s desk. “We can’t tell you what we’ve been doing, but we were talking about you,” they taunted.

I grabbed C, deposited him with his special ed teacher, and went back into the classroom. I don’t remember why I did go back, but when I walked in, I heard C’s most loving teacher doing her best to erase both her silence and mine by turning the conversation around to what the kids liked about C.

“He’s really smart!” one girl said. “He’s always friendly,” said another.

I sat down, fighting back the tears yet again. In ten minutes, his teacher managed to undo much of the damage that had been done. That girl who spoke up 11 times? “I’m going to write C a note,” she said, “apologizing for being mean to him last week.”

I followed the kids out to recess, realizing by then we might somehow be able to make it okay. I still couldn’t say anything when C’s teacher asked me how I thought it went. It took me until the next day to process enough to ask her if she thought I was overreacting. This seems so silly to me now – as if I needed permission to be upset. But my asking the question opened the floodgates, and she cried with me as she told me how awful she felt about the whole experience.

I broke my silence. I wrote a letter to the presenter, knowing I could never face him without dissolving into a puddle of tears. I sat down with the principal of C’s school and the district special education director. Other teachers on staff heard about the incident (albeit not through me), and many approached me offering kind words. I heard through the grapevine that the presenter was distressed by my letter; he didn’t understand what the problem was. He never said another word to me again, and by the end of the year he was gone. I’m not sure if he quit or was forced to go, but I’ve heard rumors of both.

I discussed the incident with just a few people. The next morning, I sobbed at my best friend’s dining room table. I cried on the phone that night to my boss. Husband, my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law all listened to me weep. A a few far flung bloggy and real-life friends received an explanatory email after a cryptic facebook and blog post of mine. But I couldn’t share this story with anyone more than that until now.

It was the single most painful experience I’ve ever had involving C. I am so thankful C wasn’t there, and I would gladly hear all of it again if it meant he never had to. It’s nearly two years later, and I know I will never forget one moment of that most disturbing day.

But never again will I be silent. Never.

Entry filed under: autism. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

Perspective is everything I am from Mars, but I’m moving to Venus

42 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Silence = Death « Unstrange Mind  |  November 1, 2010 at 7:21 am

    […] I just read a powerful entry and wanted to share it with others. I Will Not be Silent from What We Need by […]

  • 2. Em  |  November 1, 2010 at 7:30 am

    What a powerful post..thank you for sharing! The incident in the classroom sounds dreadful. But, like you, I probably would have been silent throughout. We’ve all been taught – a little too well – not to create conflict or contradict those who society views as an “expert”. So very wrong.

    I’m glad you wrote the letter following the event.

    And I’m glad you are not silent today! It does seem odd that someone felt the best way to honor those with a disability was to be silent. I understand the idea of experiencing something in order to understand it better…walk a mile in my shoes, and all that. But none of these people are walking a mile in the shoes of my son….or your son. They are just getting a little free PR for themselves.

  • 3. Dianne G.  |  November 1, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Thank you SO much for posting this! Tears of empathy were shed.
    Sincerely yours, DianneG.

  • 4. akbutler  |  November 1, 2010 at 8:48 am

    this was, by far, one of the most powerful posts I’ve read today. This is the perfect reason to not be silent. What a horrible experience for you, your son, and everyone involved. I’m so glad you’re not staying silent anymore.

  • 5. Sunday  |  November 1, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I agree with AK…This post really puts the whole silence vs. speaking out into perspective.

    We can only advocate for our children when we use our words and our actions!

  • 6. mattidw  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:03 am

    This a great post!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shannon Rosa, KarenG, KarenG, Sarah Oriel, Sarah Oriel and others. Sarah Oriel said: RT @xtremeparnthood: This amazing post about why silence is NOT the answer is a MUST READ! http://bit.ly/diW0Bq #Autism #AutismShoutOut #ASDay […]

  • 8. Matt  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I am sorry to hear about this unfortunate experience. Thank you for sharing today – it reminds us why we must always speak up.

  • 9. Karen  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Thank you so very much for sharing this very powerful story. It took me awhile to stop apologizing (before we had a diagnosis & understanding) and begin advocating & championing my kidlet. And I continue to learn more each and every day in the three years since diagnosis. Through Twitter & blogging, I have found fantastic Mamas & families & people living with autism. I have found connection and information and understanding. And like you, I won’t be silent on an avenue that I think will be a great resource for my kidlet when he’s older and for us as a family & myself, right now. Thank you again, so much for your post!! :>

  • 10. Sarah  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:28 am

    This is beautiful and inspirational. Thanks for sharing it and for speaking up.

  • 11. Robin  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:32 am

    This incident affected my life too. I still can’t believe it happened, it was awful. Although you were shocked into silence, I was so proud of how you handled it afterwards, using your voice to make it clear to everyone involved that this was NOT how these situations should be handled, hard as it was to talk about. I know you helped kids and moms coming up behind you at that school. We have to keep pushing the world in the right direction, and staying silent is not going to do it.

  • 12. Melissa  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:37 am

    What a horrible experience. I cannot even imagine and am speechless and so very, very sorry that this happened.

    Such a powerful reason why we cannot stay silent.

  • 13. Shivon  |  November 1, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Oh Darcy, what a nightmare :(. I am so sorry you had to go through that. What an incompetent twit that awful man was! But in the end, pls remember that you weren’t silent, you spoke up to turn it around. Which is why it is so important that we do speak up.

  • 14. Cheryl D.  |  November 1, 2010 at 10:07 am

    I can’t even imagine. The presenter should have been tarred and feathered immediately. What an arrogant a-hole!

    I’m not being silent today either.

  • 15. statia  |  November 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Oh how awful for you. I can’t even imagine.

    I don’t get the whole silence thing. I mean, I get it, in a literal sense. It’s just kind of ridiculous in a figurative sense. I am never silent (and I wonder where my kids get it from, hee), and I will NOT be silent. I don’t care if parents think I’m crazy for saying my kid is Autistic. I don’t care if they think I’m being ridiculous. My son is quirky, people need to get used to it.

  • 16. Sectrummy Mummy  |  November 1, 2010 at 10:33 am

    What an awful experience, I can’t believe how bad this must have been. I can entirely relate to that feeling of having lost your voice. I wrote about my experience here: http://spectrummymummy.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/an-education/
    Our kids count on us to speak out for them, I’ll be doing that today and every other until I no longer have to.

  • 17. Ilka  |  November 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

    What a horrible experience. You are right. We should speak out! When my daughter was in 1st grade the Psychologist convinced us and the school she needed though hand because she was confrontational and she needed to understand she HAD to obey. My daughter went from working a little to not working at all. Her stress level climbed. After that the school refused to accept her the following year. 2 years later she was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It was a horrible experience. And I did not speak, either. I was just afraid to say anything. I was hoping that would work. It did not.

  • 18. therocchronicles  |  November 1, 2010 at 11:48 am

    As soon as I started reading, I knew what this post would be about. Now that C is in a new school I knew that you would write about this at some point, I’ve been waiting. What a perfect day to post this. I remember when this incident happened Darcy. I’ll always remember what happened to C and to you. This is one of the most powerful reasons to never stay silent. I’m so glad that you wrote a letter, and doubly glad that that person left the school. I hope he understands the impact he had on ALL the kids. I do hope that the teacher will never stay silent if a similar experience should happen. I know that you won’t, and I won’t either.

  • 19. Catherine  |  November 1, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a former special education teacher, I can see how thoughtless children can be to others and how empathy can’t be taught by a ‘venting session’. Parents need to teach their kids everyone is worthy of respect and acceptance.

  • 20. Silence « The Roc Chronicles  |  November 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

    […] I Will Not Be Silent […]

  • 21. pixiemama  |  November 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    This is a powerful story, and I am so glad you chose to share it today. You know, it must have felt horrible at the time, but it probably was best that you stayed silent when you did. It you had openly argued with the presenter, it would have only further confused the kids.By instead letting the teacher reign things in, the kids were able to process the information she shared with them without your emotions. But, OMG, my friend. OMG.

    No, we will not be silent.

  • 22. fiona2107  |  November 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Wow, Darcy – my mother’s heart was breaking into many pieces for you as I read this.
    You may have been silent at the time ( and I would have under that sort of pressure too) you have now used the powerful medium of the internet to share this story with courage and determination so that no other child has to suffer such direct discrimination.

    And fot that I applaud you

  • 23. born 2b me  |  November 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Horrible experience. I think you handled it very well. It takes me a while to process what is happening and formulate a response. Good for you the way you took action on this. It is a victory for us all. Bravo!! 🙂

  • 24. Patty  |  November 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    I am crying here thinking what you had to go through. The only good thing about the whole event was that you spared your son from hearing it.

    Thank you for sharing this, though it had to be hard. I am like you: I often feel like I may be overreacting, when I know full well I am not. Thank you for giving me a bit more courage to speak up for my wonderful son!

  • 25. kristen  |  November 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Thank you for this. What a powerful post. Yes, speaking up and speaking out has to be the right thing. For all our kids.

  • 26. Erica77777  |  November 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Amen, Darcy.

    Right there with ya.

  • 27. Caitlin  |  November 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I know how hard this was for you to share, and how long it’s taken for you to open yourself up – but don’t you feel that the stars aligned for this? The timing could not have been more meaningful, powerful, could not have been more silence-shattering. Your story is reaching people who need to hear it.

    You also know my story, and how I would give ANYTHING to go back and be in that classroom instead of Simon during that life-altering, soul-crushing experience. It would not have changed my silence in the moment – because like you – my tongue was literally frozen in shock and confusion. But you have carried this burden instead of his little shoulders all this time, and you need to know you are a powerful mother for that.

    Love, Caitlin

  • 28. Julie Lost and Found  |  November 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Oh goodness! I am so sorry that you had to go through such a horrible experience. I just am sitting here with tears streaming down my face.

    I am so glad that you shared this. What a wonderful mother you are. Good for you for NOT being silent!!

    I mentioned a long time ago here that my son has aspergers. Presently, he’s in a small private montessori school with only 10 students , and he’s the oldest..but that isn’t going to always be the case. I’m scared. I’m so scared of what he’s going to have to deal with. Last friday was the first meeting between his psychologist and teachers in trying to explain to them how a child on the spectrum’s world is like.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

  • 29. Becky Carpenter  |  November 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    This man is not an educator like any I know and respect. He is an egotistical, cruel, idiot.

  • 30. Jennifer  |  November 1, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Continue to speak up.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.


  • 31. Esther  |  November 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Reading your story, makes me cry again. I understand your silence at the time. The whole event was so shocking that when I first heard about it I was so taken aback, I had nothing to say.
    Miss you and C.

  • 32. goodfountain  |  November 2, 2010 at 5:08 am

    I’ve read more than one story of parents being silent and regretting it later. Thank you for sharing- your lessons are tucked away for future reference (that I hope I never need).

  • 33. lynnes  |  November 2, 2010 at 11:29 am

    SO angry for you! I wish I could hug you with one arm and deliver a straight punch to the crotch of that man with the other.

  • 34. Jackie  |  November 2, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    When I read the presenter actually said, “Sometimes it’s hard to hear the truth, isn’t it?” I literally made this face. :O

    How could that presenter say that?! It’s beyond me how people can be so cruel, and just go about their merry way. I would’ve threatened to sue the school for defamation if I was in your position, although that might end up making a mountain out of a mole hill. I tend to have a tomboyish streak in me, that wants to react to upsetting situations like this with, “I’ll kick their butt!”

  • 35. Julie  |  November 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    I had forgotten ….now I clearly remember 😦

  • 36. Kristy Minor  |  November 3, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Please read.

    This is a heart wrenching post. I am sorry you and your son had such an awful and traumatic experience. I’m sorry you weren’t able to speak and were crushed by the way your son was portrayed by that man. He chose not to explain the differences and good qualities and build your child up, but instead to let the students lead the conversation with comments from opinions they had already formed of him, which is the whole reason for that teacher being there. What a tremendous injustice.

    I am glad you are choosing to not be silent anymore. I am happy for you, to have contacted the staff and let them all know it was wrong. I’m proud of you. I don’t know if you have ever read this… but it’s out there… something that happened similar to your experience, but with a different out come:


    My son is 11 years old. He is a verbal 5th grader. Last year he was bullied in 4th grade at recess by 6th graders. I home schooled him for 3 years because he couldn’t handle school. The last thing I wanted was for him to be tormented especially when he doesn’t understand teasing. I didn’t want him to be corrupted by these children and start acting and behaving like them.

    Everytime he was bullied, I went to the school, I made sure the teachers and the principal knew about it. I made sure it was going to come to an end or I would involve authorities. It stopped. Those same children who were bullying him, he refers to as his friends.

    On November 1st I participated in Communication Shutdown. If I was the Twitter type, I may have participated in the other one. I see nothing wrong with the Communication Shutdown effort or the Twitter movement. They are collecting donations (which I donated) for autism advocates and researchers, and challenging you to not use Facebook or e-mail for ONE day, in honor of people affected by autism who have difficulty communicating, or unable to communicate at all.

    I find this profoundly symbolic. That is all it is. I think people are taking some serious offense to this and are appalled at the thought of being silent for children with disabilities, and this is their only communication, or how could you empathize by not using the internet??

    Facebook is my only communication with most adults. I have an 11 year old son with autism, a 5 year old daughter, and 4 year old son. I’m a stay at home mom and I provide child care for extra income. The challenge was issued… Can I stay off of facebook for a day? Can I make a donation and be part of a world wide movement symbolizing silence and helping autistic people world wide? It was hard… but I did it. Facebook is my life line. It is my sanity and sounding board. Hundreds of friends, family, parents of other children with autism, people I went to school with, or church with, are right there at my fingertips, ready, willing, and able to give me advice and support. I enjoy posting about my children all the time. My life is an open book. I am thankful for the village that facebook provides me in raising my children.

    I will continue to advocate for my children every day, even on Communication Shutdown day when necessary. Taking one day to show my family and friends that I can speak out and advocate (like gathering a HUGE team of family and friends to join me in an autism walk, and be the first one to speak on behalf of my son and children with autism in front of a thousand people, gathering my family together to donate ALL of their belongings in an effort to hold huge autism fundraiser garage sales, to donate ALL proceeds), or I can disappear from facebook and be silent for a day, while infrequent updates (non-spam) explain why I am gone and how they can join me in support and donate to the cause, is still a profound statement, symbol, and believe it or not… advocation….

    I do not, for one second, believe that it is meant to actually “silence” people so they can really empathize. That’s taking it just a little bit too far. Or misinterpreting the actual reason, and statement for doing it. I am happy to have had the opportunity to participate in Communication Shutdown and hope that I will also have the opportunity to participate in the other movement that was taking place via Twitter on Facebook someday.

    Stay strong and keep doing everything in your power to be a voice for your child, whether it is loud or silent….

    …together we can help solve the puzzle.

    Thank you, Kristy, for your thoughtful comment. I did not take great offense at the Communication Shutdown, but I did find it strange, to be honest. I also recognize that others found it intensely powerful. If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing this blog and reading others, it’s that there is great diversity in the autism community. Ultimately, the Communication Shutdown was not right for me, but I don’t begrudge you for participating in it. I think it’s really cool that there were two very powerful events on opposite sides of the fence. One could not have occurred without the other. I, for one, was glad to have the chance to find so many new bloggers to read – mostly from autistic people. I love hearing the voices of people who have so much to teach me about my own child. Peace to you and yours.

  • 37. The Loudness of Silence « Professor Mother Blog  |  November 4, 2010 at 3:54 am

    […] most is that while there was the possibility of impassioned disagreement- and there were plenty of impassioned blogs- go ahead, click on the link and read it… I’ll wait.  It’s worth reading…, […]

  • 38. LizCoyne  |  November 4, 2010 at 5:29 am

    I cried with you too. I’m so sorry you had to experience that day, that presenter, that moment — but I thank you for sharing it with us, with me. So grateful that his teacher found her voice and was able to turn around the class opinion to a positive point of view. Isn’t it interesting how the children experienced two very different discussions on the same topic with supposedly the same intent — all a matter of perspective and leadership. A wonderful rebuttal that made all the difference.

    Congrats to you for speaking out.

  • 39. Suzanne  |  November 7, 2010 at 11:37 am

    I am sobbing as I write this to you – I feel as if I am reliving a portion of my own life experience as I read a part of yours.

    I have learned that I am my childs loudest voice and I will always ROAR the loudest for him. You Go, Momma!!!!!!

  • 40. robinaltman  |  November 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

    What a total dim wit. How dare he present himself as a professional. “The kids need to vent.” What horse manure. I’d like to put a nice vent in his cranium.

  • 41. The Success of Speaking « No Stereotypes Here  |  December 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    […] 8. ASD Mommy-I don’t know this blogger’s name, but it is a good post. https://asdmommy.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/i-will-not-be-silent/ 9. A.S.S.G.O. (AS Support Group Online)’s post for Autistics Speaking Day. […]

  • 42. ranking kont internetowych  |  May 20, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I will not Ƅe silent


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