Why my daughter taught me about protecting my disabled son. By Lisa Carver for


Personal Essay: Taking His Side

What my seven-year-old daughter taught me about protecting my disabled son.

by Lisa Carver

July 30, 2009


“Miss Sarah is not stealing dollar bills from your room.”

“You don’t know it because she put electrodes in your brain!” he cried. “She buzzes them and makes you think she’s right, so you put me in time out. It’s black magic electricity.”

“Sweetheart, that is not true,” I said.

Except it was.

Miss Sarah wears pearls and holds eye contact and fills out paperwork quite accurately. Who would believe her? Everybody. History is writ by the victors. Nobody believes the very young, the mentally ill, the misfits. It takes too much effort to understand them. They’re like that old Native American guy, the only one left of his tribe, and no one but him spoke his language, so who could translate for him?

Luckily, my son has Sadie, his sister. Wolf is fifteen; Sadie is seven. Like most parents of the disabled, I am too tired from fighting for my son, because I have to fight health insurance, doctors, caregivers, school policies, nature itself (my son’s behavior), strangers, my family, and my desire to have a life. I don’t want to fight anymore. These days I pretty much take what help I can get in any form, and unfortunately that means turning a blind eye. The disabled can bring out the bully in anyone, because they are frustrating. My son is frustrating. I can’t keep divorcing people. I can’t fire everyone. So I tend to ignore the distorted danger signals my son sends out.

But his sister is not tired like I am. She makes sure I listen. She still believes in her brother’s rights. “Miss Sarah waits till you’re gone,” she told me, “then she calls him ‘unhelpful.’ She kept humming something after he held his hands over his ears and asked her to stop. She doesn’t do any of those things to me, because I know how to talk politely. I’m not annoying and loud like my brother. But it’s not his fault he doesn’t know how to act. Miss Sarah should help him act right, not make him act worse and then punish him for it. She wants him to be bad. She let him break branches off the tree, because she wanted to watch him get in trouble by you when you got home.”

Suddenly, I got it.

The dollar bills were his pride Miss Sarah was stealing, in tiny amounts, day by day. The electrodes and the buzzing – that was the the reasonable voice and logical cover stories she’d put in my brain about what happened while I was gone, why he’d broken whatever he’d broken, what he’d done wrong that now had him in shame, in tears, punching himself in the head.