Yours truly with Eustacia Cutler, March, 2012
[When you are faced with a moment with doctors or teachers or any other experts that shocks you, that renders you speechless or throws you for a loop] DO NOT ACT in the moment. Go home. Think it through. Run it into the ground. and then write an e-mail. But DO NOT ACT in the moment.
– Eustacia Cutler, better known as Temple Grandin’s mother
OK, so here it is.
I’ve been asked a number of times over the past few days for my thoughts on Eustacia Cutler’s article entitled, Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination in the Daily Beast. I’m not going to link to it. I can’t in good conscience.
And I couldn’t react right away. In part because I simply couldn’t find words, or at least string them together comprehensibly in the fog of toxic anger, but so too because it was, ironically, Mrs Cutler herself who taught me to wait before speaking when thrown for a loop.
I have immense respect for Mrs Cutler. Her love for her daughter, the widely celebrated and esteemed Autistic advocate, Temple Grandin and her dogged determination to raise her as she saw fit in the face of a community of ‘experts’ who didn’t know their arses from their elbows but argued against any and all logic, helped blazed a trail for those of us who can now feel justified in blazing our own.
That run-on sentence was barely English, I know, but I trust you to translate. Quick version: she did a lot of good for mothers of kids with far more potential than the world was (and often still is) able to recognize.
Early last year, I met Mrs Cutler. I had the honor of joining her for lunch and talking – really talking – about the state of the world and our understanding of autism, about our faith in our children and their potential not despite but because of their differences. We talked about her book, A Thorn in my Pocket, and about how much of it resonated with me, how many pages I’d dog-eared and all the quotes I’d balled into my fists and written on my hands and held onto for dear life for the days that I would need to know that it could be done. Simply to know that it could be done.
I wrote a fawning post after that luncheon, gushing over the experience of meeting a woman I called a hero. I was humbled by the immense proportions of what she had done in a time before even the most remote understanding of the vast diversity of neurology had begun to dawn.
And then two days ago the questions began.
Umm, have you seen what Mrs Cutler wrote?
What was she thinking?
I was afraid to look. My response to the first inquirer was, and I quote,
“Oh dear God. I haven’t read the piece and I’m not so sure I want to. And by not so sure, I mean I really, really don’t. Can I just hide here in my blanket fort for a while?”
Alas, one can only hide under a blanket fort for so long before needing to come out for a snack. And even more alas, it turned out that I had every reason to be afraid.
There’s no way to mince words. The article is awful. It is based on nothing but anecdotes, or *an* anecdote, really, with absolutely no data nor research nor even studies-in-progress to back up its horrific accusations. Its premise is irresponsible at best and its conclusions are nothing short of terribly, terribly dangerous. In one fell swoop, Mrs Cutler inadvertently throws gasoline on years and years of hard-won progress and carelessly, without a shred of evidence to justify the impending flames, she tosses a match over her shoulder as she walks away to her next speaking gig.
There have been a number of rebuttals, but I am most impressed by Emily Willingham’s brilliant deconstruction of the piece in Forbes. It is precisely what I would have written had I had the time and wherewithal to do it justice. I will ask you to read it and then let it stand as my response to the article.
To Mrs Cutler, I’d say the following:
I am and will always be grateful for the example that you set for those of us who follow you on this road. I deeply appreciate (and attempt to emulate) your unvarnished honestly in presenting your story as Temple’s mother. You never tried to hide your mistakes, but instead held them up to the light to help us learn from them together.
With all due respect, writing an article that so recklessly (and baselessly) impugned the character of a population who is already saddled with a history of malignant misunderstanding was a mistake of epic proportions. Especially with a name as recognizable as yours.
Though I say all of this with a heavy heart, i don’t say it with anger. I say it with the hope that you will treat it as you have other missteps along the way. The ones that we all have made — the words we spoke in anger, the bridges we burned, the shame we internalized, the compassion we denied those who needed it most.
The ones that you never sought to hide, but to rectify, to teach us all not to repeat.
It is your words that come back to me today as I struggle with the visceral need to protect my child – all of our children, and my adult autistic friends who now struggle with one more albatross today.
“My rage is gone now; sorrow hits, and I ache to forgive.”
A Mom Who Desperately Wants To Continue To Look Up To You