Jewel asked whether she could stay home from school the day after the U.S. presidential election. She didn’t want to be around the “Trump boys” who have been chanting, “Build the wall” the last few weeks. In her autistic mind of absolutes, it’s her alone versus them, and she wasn’t sure she was up to the task.
She has been very tuned in to this campaign and had been so excited at the prospect of a president who cares about kids and those with special needs, one who doesn’t use vile language and speak so hatefully, especially about women, a particular sore spot with Jewel. She worries the teasing at school will only get worse, with kids emboldened to follow Trump’s lead, as he is the new leader.
I am all about giving her life lessons, but this is the hardest one I have had to teach her to date. And it begins by her squaring her shoulders, and going to school with her head held high, knowing she has value, deserves respect and is an equal to her peers in every way.
I told her we will accept the outcome of the election, but never bend in our own core beliefs of open-heartedness, kindness and courage. I told her the country is deeply, deeply split, as Hillary appears to have won the popular vote. I told her that the U.S. was founded on the principles of diversity and inclusion, and this result hasn’t changed that. I told her she is protected and loved. And I told her that in a democracy, there are processes in place that keep one person from exerting absolute power. And I am trying to convince myself of that last one.
Selfish braggarts, those who discount anyone who looks different than himself or herself, those who pick on the weak and disaffected and lack empathy toward people walking a difficult path, and those who think women are to be judged on their looks alone and be flattered if someone deems them attractive enough to force unwanted attention on them … these are the personality traits that will get you scratched off my list when it comes to people I choose to have in my life. And it is a philosophy Jewel also wholeheartedly embraces.
And yet here we are, with someone who has openly embodied all these traits now the president of the United States. I told Jewel that not everyone who voted for him embodies these characteristics, that here is a lot of frustration in this country from people who feel left behind, that government leaders have let them down. I told her that she cannot compromise in speaking her own mind, expressing her own opinions, in this deeply divided country. She has an equal say as an American, she is not “lesser” because she is female and because she has a disability.
I preach all the time that Jewel needs to feel “safe, accepted and competent,” but how do I protect her when I feel none of those things after this election? We are not alone. Women, immigrants, minorities, Muslims, those in the LGBT community and other disabled students are feeling this. My only advice to Jewel, myself and everyone else is “fake it ’til you make it.”
Jewel asked whether Trump would take away special ed programs from schools, especially for those with autism. His only public mentions of autism during the campaign came in a primary debate and tweets, in which he clung to the thoroughly discredited study that linked vaccines to autism but found to have been based on falsified research. I can’t help but remember his mocking of a physically disabled reporter.
Trump has the power to appoint health officials that could steer autism research dollars away from valuable inclusion programs and toward this disproved autism-vaccine connection, and has shown intolerance toward the disabled. Hillary had a comprehensive plan, developed with scientists, educators and autistics, to help autistics find jobs and live more safely, and she says she does not believe vaccines cause autism. I couldn’t reassure Jewel on this point about the special ed program.
I sent emails to Jewel’s program director and the school psychologist, telling them about Jewel’s worries and asking for their support. I know how lucky we are to have this resource, and everyone needs to lean on their support systems during this difficult transition. Their response gives me hope: We’re all trying to make sense of this, and we’re here to help.
Always a pessimist and planner, I began bracing for impact a few weeks ago. Several months ago, we had lost our beloved cat, to cancer at age 5. Jewel was devastated, and it began to feel right to look for a new kitten, not to replace but to heal our hearts. The timing could not have worked out better; we picked up our new kitten last weekend, and Jewel is hugging her and loving on her and talking to her about all this. Just seeing her furry face, knowing she is now in our lives, is calming to us. My advice to those feeling dismayed, disoriented and distraught: Hug your people and find your bliss.
Searching for anything else positive in all this, I told Jewel that this means SHE still could be the first female U.S. president. It gave her no solace; she said Hillary would win next time. I explained what a longshot that was, given her age and this defeat, and she grew pensive. “Wow, I really didn’t think this would happen.”
I know, honey, I know.
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