Search This Blog

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Autism in a public place - part 2

The news story I referred to in last week's post has not come to a happy resolution. Here are some of the latest articles from our local newspapers:

Union appeals driver's firing, Ottawa Citizen, Nov 16-11

Fired bus driver has has stressful year: Union, Ottawa Sun, Nov 15-11

Scape-goating the driver in this situation is a "band-aid solution" that's really no solution at all. Nothing has been done to address the basic underlying problem - a growing number of young people with autism are out in the community, and the community is not knowledgeable about how to interact with them.

And the "solution" has caused new problems:

There is no question that the actions and words of the bus driver were inappropriate and unacceptable. The young man with autism was distressed and traumatized by the original incident; but when you read the news articles, you find out that he also now has extra distress caused by feeling partially responsible for the driver getting fired.  In my experience, because of the young man's autism, this second distress will be hard for him to process, understand and put to rest - all he asked for was an apology, instead he's been given a burden.

And what about the driver? Clearly he is a man under great personal stress - losing his wife and mother to cancer, and then being the caregiver for his seriously ill father - surprising that he was able to make it to work each day, not surprising that he was riding the edge of self-control while on the job. After my daughter died of cancer, I was not myself for many years, and I know that at times my free-floating anger at the unfairness of life was focused into extremely angry reactions to relatively trivial events - this is not an unusual response - grief isn't a dreamy soft melancholy feeling, it's hard and sharp with pointy edges. The driver in this case needs compassion, mental health leave, perhaps a change of job from behind a wheel to behind a desk, and in good time, some sensitivity training to help his understanding of people with less visible disabilities. What possible good comes out of firing him?

It's hard to have a social disability like autism, and it's hard to interact with a person with autism if you have no knowledge about the diagnosis. What's needed in this situation is less punitive action and more understanding and education ... it's the only way to truly solve the problem.

No comments:

Post a Comment