Sunday, February 25, 2007

On Raising Cowboys



...And them that don't know him won't like him
And them that do sometimes won't know how to take him
He ain't wrong he's just different
but his pride won't let him do things to make you think he's right...
------------------------------
from "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys"
by Willie Nelson


So Yesterday I had occasion to drive 300 miles one way to another city for a function, then after 4 hours, drive back another 300 miles.

I was alone, and able to indulge some of my eclectic musical tastes. I ended up listening to some Cowboy Junkies, the Diner Junkies, and Willie Nelson (an ex-junkie).

Maybe I'm just picking up one of Krisina Chew's habits and seeing autism everywhere. But as I'm listening to Willie singing the above song I heard those lyrics, repeated the track again to make sure I heard them right, and the thought occurred to me, "I'm not raising a son with autism, I'm raising a cowboy".

And I thought (I do a lot of free association and just plain weird thinking while driving long distances alone) "I wonder if the world would understand my son better, and treat him better, if I just told them he was a cowboy?"

Cowboys have a long tradition in America, and despite a few people using the term "cowboy" in a negative sense when referring to President Bush, there is a long and deep tradition of positive attributes being attributed to cowboys. Mention being autistic, however, and there only seem to be negative stereotypes that come to most people's minds.

Cowboys are entrenched in the lore of the United States, with many of them acheiving legendary status.

Most cowboys were men, but some (like Annie Oakley) were female. Cowboys were (and are) generally people who don't talk much, and are rugged individualists. They tend to keep to themselves, and don't much care if others understand them or not.

Cowboys have a code of ethics that is looked up to so much that some have suggested a version of it be used to instill ethical business practices in individuals.

I could see it now. When the school calls to complain about Buddy Boy exhibiting some behavior that doesn't seem to fit the mold they want to put him in, I could just say something like "You don't understand, he's a cowboy." This would be all that I would have to say to convey to them that my son was different, and in a good way.

Rather than expecting him to conform to arbitrary rules they had set up, they would instantly understand (because of the shared cultural knowledge) that my son was indeed different, and was probably destined for greatness. As they had a genuine cowboy amongst their midst, they would fall all over themselvs making efforts to individualize their educational efforts, much as all of society caters to celebrities. They would also expect great things from him, and as many studies have shown, when teachers expect great things from students they tend to get them.

My apologies to any Europeans reading this. You'll have to get your own legendary figures to latch on to to get the schools (and society) to treat you and your kids better.

14 comments:

Club 166 said...

Before anybody takes me to task for suggesting that autism is a "tainted" word, a few words of explanation.

First of all, I would love it if, when someone mentioned their son/daughter/brother/husband was autistic, that the person they were talking to immediately was jealous and wanted to meet him or her. I think we all have a responsibility to increase positive associations with the term autism. That just doesn't happen to seem what the prevailing public opinion is at the moment.

Secondly, I wrote the above after having gotten three hours of sleep, and then proceeding to work the whole day. Perhaps after I've gotten some sleep tonight, I'll have to erase the above when I see how ridiculous I sound. Or not.

Daisy said...

Please don't delete the post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm from farm country, not cowboy country, but I loved the philosophy. "He's a cowboy." Gotta love it!

laurentius rex said...

I have often thought that is where many of the aspies of the 19th century ended up, as Cowboys. I have always enjoyed the Western Genre in Cinema, that whole rugged individualist ethic has always appealed to me.

David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction) said...

"First of all, I would love it if, when someone mentioned their son/daughter/brother/husband was autistic, that the person they were talking to immediately was jealous and wanted to meet him or her."

If my own siblings would actually do this, I'd be bloody surprised.

I think that they actually resent my having been the family's 'shameful relative' and been as successful as I have.

"I think we all have a responsibility to increase positive associations with the term autism. That just doesn't happen to seem what the prevailing public opinion is at the moment."

When I mention that my daughter is autistic, people tend to say, 'Oh, I'm really sorry!'

I then tell them that I am not in the least bit sorry. She's loved for who she is. The biggest issue isn't the autistic orientation of her perceptual default: it's when others around her don't recognise this and expect more than she is capable of giving.

In fact, when people (like me) respect her limits, they tend to get more from her than they bargained for, and that I mean in a positive way.

Club 166 said...

...I'm from farm country, not cowboy country, ...

Truth be told, my mother was born in your neck of the woods, and I have relatives that are dairy farmers up your way.

Club 166 said...

...I have often thought that is where many of the aspies of the 19th century ended up, as Cowboys. ...

I've always felt that people tend to self select jobs that are a "good fit" for them, so this would make sense.

kristina said...

And you weren't trying to make a veiled reference to hippotherapy, by any chance.....

Club 166 said...

...If my own siblings would actually do this, I'd be bloody surprised. ...

Someone on a local autism listserve that I am on posted recently wanting help in dealing with their totally non-understanding and unhelpful inlaws.

It seemed from the instantaneous flood of responses generated that this is a somewhat universal problem (that being relatives not "getting it").

Most people posted about relatives blaming them for their kids autism or giving them "helpful" tips to control them ("if you'd just beat them more...") which alternated with ignoring the kids when they were present and refusing to help at all (while helping other siblings with NT kids).

When I mention that my daughter is autistic, people tend to say, 'Oh, I'm really sorry!'

I then tell them that I am not in the least bit sorry. She's loved for who she is.


That's a great response! I'm filing it away into my repertoire of standard responses to ignorant and stupid comments. Since our kids are also adopted, and look different from us, we get a lot of those kinds of comments.

Club 166 said...

And you weren't trying to make a veiled reference to hippotherapy, by any chance.....

Hah! I missed that. On the job therapy for free. :)

But funny you should mention that. One of my co-workers is involved with it, having a son that has Down's syndrome. I've been meaning to talk to her to see about getting Buddy Boy involved with it.

Mom without a manual said...

I love the comparison to cowboys!

I recently discovered your blog and am loving everything I read! You seem to be a great advocate!

Without differences the world would be a boring place. From now on I am thinking of my son as a cowboy and we are "bucking the system".

Club 166 said...

...I recently discovered your blog and am loving everything I read! ...

Thanks! I've mostly been a lurker on yours, but I love yours, too

...Without differences the world would be a boring place. From now on I am thinking of my son as a cowboy and we are "bucking the system".

I like the "bucking the system" analogy. Although optomistic that the world will be better for my son then it has been for autistics in the past, I realistically think that he and we will be "bucking the system" for a long time. But that's OK.

bigwhitehat said...

Outstanding! You sir need to become a code marshal.

I'm glad you found my friend Chris.

I'm going email him a link to this post.

Christopher said...

Club 166, I love the post. Thank you for linking back to my Cowboy Code page as a reference. I posted a link to this post, and I look forward to reading more of your blog.

I'm honored that you (even in the random thoughts while driving) looked to the Cowboy Persona as something for people to use as a reference to look up to.

Ironically, as BWH will tell you, no Cowboy would need such an explanation or reference. We tend to accept people for who they are. It's a shame that the people who would benefit from that explanation may never understand that.

If there is anything I can do on my blog to promote Autism Awareness, please leave me a comment and I will be more than glad to post something or put a link in my side bar.

Club 166 said...

BWH and Christopher,

Thanks for the kind words.

As much as most of America becomes homogenized with one strip mall following another, it's great that the image (and ethos) of the cowboy survives.