Autism is a complex disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication. News out of Canada involves a 13-year-old autistic boy and an anonymous neighbor. The neighbor in the story is the one demonstrating an extreme inability to socialize or communicate according to basic expectations.
Max Begley spends summer mornings with his grandmother, Brenda Millson, in an Ontario, Canada suburb. One morning, she discovered a one-page type-written letter slipped under her door. The letter gained international attention when two Canadian “Nashville” stars, who are friends of Max’s mother, posted it to their Twitter account.
The typo-filled, exclamation-point-heavy rant chastised Millson for allowing Begley into the neighborhood at all; even worse, the letter complains that Millson lets him go outside, where he makes “noise.” The author did not stop there. He or she went on to catalog the ways Begley is not “normal,” and to condemn him to a life without love, care or employment. Then he or she suggested ”they should take whatever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it to science.”
The letter also insinuated that Begley’s autism was something that was being done to the author. Millson was asked how she could do “this to hard working people,” with the related advice that she move out of the neighborhood and into a “trailer in the woods or something with your wild animal kid.” Alternatively, Millson was told to “euthanize him.” The author expressed hatred for the “special treatment” people with special needs children feel they are entitled to.
The letter was signed “Sincerely, One pissed off mother.”
No one is doubting the author’s sincerity. Police are investigating who might have written the letter, and are considering whether charges may be filed once the suspect is identified. Although the author claimed to be acting on behalf of the entire neighborhood, other neighbors and social media users have come out in support of Millson, Begley and his parents.
The silver lining here is that Begley does not fully understand the contents of the letter. And the common outrage in response to the message is reaffirming: most people do not think or talk like this.
Silver lining or not, the storm cloud this letter represents is dark, dense and destructive. The ludicrous positions the author takes are so obvious as to make any sentence commenting on them almost silly. Is it actually necessary to type the words, or make the argument, that a child should not be put to death and harvested for organs simply because of the nature of his brain development?
No amount of pissed-offedness validates the condemnation of another to death or banishment from the community. Living in a home and playing outside of it are not requests for special treatment. Max Begley is surrounded with love and care; the author of his recommended death sentence does not appear to be.
The cowardly act of penning an anonymous verbalization of hate and intolerance is not normal. Decently socialized humans react with outrage and despair when such an abnormality surfaces. Because pissed-offedness can be harnessed for good, for inspiration and for progress.
Featured image via USAToday.