Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#AutisticWhileBlack: What Happened To Kennedi High?

In the midst of the national media attention on D.C.'s missing African American girls, one young woman. Kennedi High, 16, Autistic and African American, left her High School in North Baltimore upon school dismissal on March 8, 2017, and disappeared for six days. She was located by the Baltimore Police and returned to her family, but the mysteries of how she disappeared, what befell her while she was gone, and who was responsible remain.

Kennedi has no history of running from home and would never stay out overnight. After talking with Kennedi, her mother is convinced she was the victim of human trafficking. The police initially dismissed the idea but are now investigating.

Autism organizations, disability rights organizations, parents of autistic youth, autistic activists, in short, every stakeholder in the autism conversation should be following this case and demanding answers.

They aren't.

1. Kennedi described to her mother being passed to different men each day in six different locations. She is quite clear on what happened to her.  Police consider her diagnosis first and therefore have a presumption of her incompetence. They did not take her account of events seriously until her mother repeated Kennedi's statements to the press and remained adamant that she believed her daughter was victimized and harmed.

2. Kennedi supposedly left voluntarily with someone she met on the Internet. Kennedi doesn't own a cell phone.  How did she meet this individual? This is critically important. Was someone allowing her to use their phone? Is someone from her school or community complicit in what happened to her?

 Right now, the therapeutic standard in Maryland for 'treatment' of autistic people from early intervention onward focuses on behavioral compliance applying ABA first and foremost. Years of this resulted in teens who comply with the demands of any authority figure. In short, we are allowing our children to mature into easy prey for predators by acquiescing to their submission to a compliance reward structure that can be perverted and abused to harm them. We are so caught up in extinguishing behaviors in our offspring that we erase their ability to say no or defend themselves. This system of autism behavioral management doesn't teach recognizing and avoiding predators, bullies, and abusive people. This has to change.

3. Particularly for autistic families of color, the demand placed on us to allow our autistic children to be made passive and compliant to all is enforced viscously. If autistic male students are labeled "combative" or "aggressive" by any authority figure who simply doesn't feel like dealing with them they are immediately criminalized and suspended or expelled from public school. It is not unusual for schools to call the police to arrest students for school-related minor infractions. All of these potential risks that their children might be disenfranchised from school activities, aftercare, and community participation pressure parents of autistic students of color to accept extreme compliance in their children as "therapy" and "improvement," and "success" of ABA intervention.

4. Everyone in the autism conversation needs to step up now and follow the investigation of the case of Kennedi High. She deserves to be believed and heard. The lack of comment, interest, and mention of her case in our community is typical of the erasure of autistic people of color that I constantly write about, to no avail. What happened to her needs to be investigated and resolved and those responsible for kidnapping and harming her need to be arrested and punished. I am calling this a kidnapping because she was taught to comply and therefore her ability to object was stripped from her.

Focus on finding solutions to the cyclic victimization of intersectional autistic populations in general and African-American autistics, in particular, is largely absent from the annual month-long awareness and acceptance events of Autism Month. The entire purpose of #AutisticWhileBlack was an attempt to spotlight issues like this one and people from our own community who are victimized yet pass quickly by our newsfeeds, a single soundbite that blips out of sight and out of community thoughts. Meanwhile, bloody online battles are being waged on the merits of blue hair dye, causation, and puzzle piece lapel pins.

Autism month is meant to be for and about the lives and needs of autistic people of all ages and demographics.

Make Kennedi matter. She's alive, and she'll need help recovering from this. Someone has to care. Where are the autism organizations who are supposed to be fighting for her? The fact that I must continually remind our community to not erase our victimized youth is beyond unacceptable.


The Story of Kennedi High, #AutisticWhileBlack



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