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Voice: Grandmother of autistic children shocked, angered by letter

February 16, 2002

As the grandmother of two autistic children, I would like to tell Mr. Ed Woeten that yes, you did "hit home," but the thing that offended me most about your letter was your ignorance. While it is admirable that you would like to see an end to the "drug babies," it is totally disgusting that you would attack a disabled child and lay a guilt trip on their parents.

I agree, the birth of a child is a beautiful thing and I was privileged to attend the birth of my first grandson. What a joy to watch this perfectly normal little baby grow. It was shortly after age 2 that we noticed a change in our little fellow, which we first thought was a hearing problem. Unfortunately, by age 3 things got worse and he was diagnosed as autistic.

He is one of the nonverbal kids in special ed you are so ready to characterize as a "drug baby." When asked something, yes, he will answer "Ng-aa-uh-gurgle" because he is trying to respond in the only way he can. I do not know of any parent of a nonverbal child who would not give up everything they have just to hear the words "Mommy" or " Daddy" from their child.

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I have watched my daughter and son-in-law agonize over what they could have done to prevent this. They are both solid, responsible, educated members of this community who have even been recognized as "parents of the year" by one of the local schools.

I have attended support group meetings of Autism of Imperial County and watched many good people with autistic or disabled children share information about possible help for their children, explore theories of cause and possible treatment strategies for this insidious disease and all the while pool together for ways to make their disabled children's lives just a little more "normal" and a little better.

While you are so quick to characterize these parents as "druggies," I see them as parents trying very hard to do the best they can for their handicapped children. The last thing they need is to be stereotyped by your ignorance.

Autism is the fastest-growing childhood affliction in the United States. It does not know any social or economic boundaries. Who knows, it could creep into your family just as easily as it crept into mine.

I have asked myself many times, "Why did this happen to my grandchild?" One day it became very clear. My grandson was having a particularly bad day and I was watching my daughter trying to deal with just one of thousands of his "bad days." She did not yell, she did not hit … she hugged, stroked and gave him words of comfort. It was then I knew the reason we have this special child was because God knew he would have love in this home.

From what I have seen, the parents and families of the vast majority of special ed children were "chosen" for the same qualities.

What I cannot fathom is n educator and school employee in a special ed class would even have such a discussion, let alone write a letter to the editor about these children. Somewhere in your training, you should have been made aware of childhood disabilities and the behavior forms they can manifest. If not, perhaps you should take some continuing education.

Second, I am sure both you and "Mrs. A." have to be aware it is not only unprofessional and unethical but illegal to breach the confidentiality rights of these students' medical conditions. For you to diagnose them as "drug babies" and announce that to the world is unforgivable.

I think whatever school district hired you and "Mrs. A." needs to now do the right thing and see that neither of you ever sets foot in a classroom again. You are both a disgrace to your profession and a liability to your employer.

You ended your letter asking, "Need I say more?" No sir, I think you have already said way more than you should have.

KAREN JUSTUS

Imperial

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