My friend Chloe has a boyfriend. Well, actually, two boyfriends.
Her and Al had a sweet relationship. He used to call her every day. He’d always say hi to her in the halls and at the fall formal, they slow danced. It was cute.
Then, Chloe met Tommy.
They were at this local haunted house. Chloe was there with our friend Cara. Cara was being flirty with this boy Danny (although that’s another story), and Chloe and Tommy instantly hit it off. They were being flirty and cutesy and by the end of the night they were set up to see a movie together the next weekend.
My immediate reaction when Chloe told me was “Um, what about Al?”
But, you see, Al is autistic.
Our school has a pretty big special education program—administration has made it a priority to really make sure the special ed kids feel like an accepted part of the school community. And for the most part, they are.
Al’s closest “normal” friend besides Chloe is my friend Lana. For a while Al had a crush on both of them, but then decided he liked Chloe better. To Al, he was in a relationship with Chloe. From Chloe’s perspective, Al was like a little kid that had a crush on her. In Chloe’s mind, being with a relationship with another boy was no big deal. To Al (if Chloe had ever told him), it would have absolutely been a betrayal.
Chloe justified her actions by saying, “But he’s only a special ed kid, it doesn’t really count!” and followed that statement with “He’s basically a ten-year-old.”
Maybe the special ed kids are an accepted part of the community. But they sure as hell aren’t respected. Simply by labeling them as the “special ed kids” we are serving to set them aside as other, separate from the rest of the “normal” people. By saying that fifteen-year-old Al basically has the mind of a ten-year-old, Chloe degraded him and stripped him of his humanity.
But the thing is, I don’t know what I would have done. I mean, Al cried for hours once when Chloe cancelled their plans. If he found out about Chloe and Tommy, he would have been devastated.
Yes, Chloe did an immoral, ableistic thing. But it’s not like this event happened in isolation—it’s not just Chloe that sees Al and “people like him” as subhuman, it’s society at large. For years the media has portrayed the neurologically atypical and mentally ill as dangerous and somehow below the rest of us.
Still, every person is accountable for their own actions, and Chloe refuses to admit that what she did to Al was wrong.
It’s been a while since Chloe and I have talked besides a quick chat here and there. But back when the whole Tommy fiasco was still going on, I asked her if she seriously believed that if Al found out about the situation, that he would be okay with it.
Her answer? “He’s never going to find out, so it doesn’t matter.”