Sweet M sorts the words she knows. (September 2006)
Over here at Autism's Edges we keep a lot of lists.
We have lists of Dolch words Sweet M has learned; lists of things that Sweet wants Santa to bring her for Christmas (she still believes); lists of schools we've looked at and found inappropriate and lists of schools we've applied to which have found her inappropriate. We have lists that constitute diagnostic criteria, and we have lists of educational attorneys.
Some days we try to keep lists of things we feel grateful for, as this is recommended as a way to boost one's sense of well being. And other days we have lists of situations that we feel are hopeless, as this seems to keep us firmly grounded in reality.
Apparently over at Sweet M's school they are also keeping lists. I am told by the psychologist who cannot make a diagnosis — the one who read us the list of diagnostic criteria from the DSM-IV-TR — that Sweet M's school is keeping a log of anything that suggests that she is not appropriate for their setting. So she doesn't really have to do anything spectacular to be booted out. She just has to pick her nose. Or not talk to another kid. Or only eat pasta for lunch. Or prefer to play alone at recess.
Earlier this year, in a meeting with the principal of the school, the principal explained to me that Sweet M has different teachers for reading, math, social studies, writing, and so on. (Sweet M is in third grade, but has six teachers, one for each subject — six different people she has to figure out.) She said we have her working with many different people because "we want to have a lot of eyes on her."
Not a lot of hands to support her, or hearts to embrace her, but a lot of eyes to assess her.
The social theorist Michel Foucault compared this sort of surveillance to the panopticon, a structure where those in power have a sightline on every subject. Think here of prison watchtowers, or professors at a podium who can view every student. The panopticon is a form — sometimes concrete and architectural, but most often social and bureaucratic — that focuses power in much the same way that the lens of magnifying glass can focus light.
There are times when one feels one is becoming paranoid. One is even tempted to check the DSM for the diagnostic criteria for various paranoid states. But then one remembers that joke turned adage: just because you think someone is out to get you — or, in this case, your child — doesn't mean you're paranoid.