Monday, June 23, 2008


To help celebrate the inclusion of Autism Hub Bloggers at the conference starting today at the University of San Diego, Steve D of One Dad's Opinion has asked for people to revisit a favorite post that they have written in the past. For my part, I have selected this one, originally posted on 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.


Steve D said...

Thanks, Joe, for getting the ball rolling. I hope many others follow in your, um, hooftracks.
And, btw, I love this post.

Alyric said...

Really like that post Steve.

Thinking of free association, I seem to do mine at 3:00 AM and the product of one session in the wee hours was a realisation that not every 'normal' attribute was necessarily all good. That maybe every human attribute is both good and bad depending on the context. So this is my contribution:

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the heads up to Steve's post. I've reposted my favorite at Enjoying the Scenery [Redux]".

Daisy said...

Love this post! I, too, see autism everywhere. I keep picking up books and thinking, "Did this author plan for this character to have autism? Or does it just seem that way?" Substitute the word 'cowboy' at will.

S.L. said...

I too love this post! Being a Yankee transplanted right smack dab in the middle of Cowboy country, I have a new understanding of the cowboy way (and I respect it!). I loved all you wrote (I too tend to think, possibly too much, on long drives!). Hmm...perhaps I'll get my own little Annie Oakley (who, they say, was rather shy) a t-shirt that says "I'm a Cowgirl, What's Your Excuse?" ;)