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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Fenix

Redesigning the Landscape

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

“Yes, we support LGBTQIA+ students, but shouldn’t we also prepare them for the real world? Otherwise, we’re setting them up for disappointment.”

I sometimes hear this in the same discussion around Neurodiversity affirming practices. That perhaps instead of filling students’ minds with concepts like “combatting ableism” and “revolutionary power by neurodiverse minds,” we should be helping them understand how to navigate a world that was never designed for them, but with progressive practices we can offer an alternative rosy lensed perspective with an extra sprinkle of validation.

But herein lies a problem. A deeply entrenched issue that permeates the reality of the hand(s) that many of us have been dealt.

You see, the underlying message remains this: Be careful not to get their hopes up. Let them know that the world is their oyster as long as they play to other people’s rules, which frankly doesn’t include deviating from the cisgender heteronormative, and neurotypical assumed behaviors. In other words, there was an implication that these marginalized youth were blindly unaware to the world that they’re up against and that the best thing we can do is offer them a map of the activated land mines and how to tip toe accordingly.

Unfortunately, this coincides with the mindset that it’s simply easier to change a child’s behavior to adjust to the society, than it would be to change society to adjust/accommodate the child, a driving theory behind both ABA and Conversion therapy. Through a series of rewards to reinforce desired behaviors and punishment to extinguish “problematic” behaviors, the child is conditioned to conduct themselves in a way that is deemed “acceptable” to society. Much more tangible, much easier to tackle, take data on, and relish it’s “recovery” outcome. All for the mere price of one’s self worth.

With degrees in both special education and psychology, I learned about the successful trials of “iconic” researchers like Ole Ivar Lovaas and the groundbreaking strides made in behavior modification. With my LGBTQ+ studies degree, I learned about the absolute destructive outcomes of conversion therapies, and the astonishing pervasive existence of such practices. Why was it, then, that I never learned they were one in the same, born in the same lab, by the same ideology?

Why did no one talk about Kirk Murphy, the first subject to undergo this “transformational success” and how he took his own life because ultimately the behaviors he was taught to “correct”, are the ones he was taught to hate himself for? Why do we take the celebrations as signs to push on, and forget about the damage we’ve done along the way?

Now, let’s be completely clear, I write this from a point of privilege. It is a privilege that allows me to sit here from my comfy soapbox. Even as black, queer, and autistic/adhder, I can write this with relative confidence that my employment/income, social status, and physical safety won’t be overtly compromised. For that I’m grateful, because unapologetic authenticity is somewhat of a luxury that not everyone is able to afford, both literally and figuratively speaking.

It is for this reason that I can’t reiterate enough that we (as a society, regardless where we reside or the space we take up) take a moment to step back.

That we force ourselves to pause in our desperate attempt to resume a feasible cadence after our 3 year sprint for survival.

That we Take note of the glimmers we thought we saw in ourselves over the last few years, and reflect on what we’re capable of. The good, the bad, the unresolved.

It’s our responsibility that we not just take note of, but we actively seek the patterns in our own destructive behaviors, individually and collectively. Recognize the holes in the system, how they’ve failed us, how the orchestrated societal smoke signals have directly impaired our ability to connect the dots and see what needs to be done.

To simply say we just don’t have the power to create the change in society (so in turn lets change the individual), is the ultimate admission of defeat, and for lack of better words, the ultimate cop out and forfeiture of our own volition.

The truth is, we won’t need cartographers if we're redesigning the landscape.

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