Saturday, November 29, 2014

Forced Migrations

Highway sign white letters on green field read You are now leaving
Greenbelt with yellow warning sign in yellow with black font
reading Exit Only
I thought I would be fighting the good fight until my autistic son was in an inclusive classroom. I thought I would be in historic Greenbelt, speaking out at the city council meetings, pushing for a better west Greenbelt community. We entertained the possibility of a move to the beautiful new town homes they were building  between the metro station and College Park. Nothing turned out as expected.

 2014 has been a year of failures and disappointments for me. I am exhausted. While efforts to improve a neighborhood on the verge of urban decay for a very long time have seen changes like new management, renovations and better maintenance,  the largest garden style community on the East Coast  is still the rough part of town. The retirees who raised their children there were forced out by 2012. Between 2007 and 2010. crime peaked and a series of fires caused by a combination of faulty wiring and arson burned out legacy residents. Stability has returned but it had come at great cost. My idea of building community ties there just wasn't going to work. Too many residents see west Greenbelt  as a hotel/transient lodging rather than a legitimate part of greater Greenbelt.

Mu with big sister at Greenbelt's Mother and Child Statue
The brand new wheelchair accessible middle school was not where they wanted our son to go. Four years of homeschooling later, no administrative attitudes had changed and the goal was simply to warehouse another nonspeaking autistic student. How would this one be made compliant? What was the risk to everyone else of any given placement? This was the only thing discussed. Under a veneer of feigned interest in our son's individual support needs, the only plan was segregating him away in a closed classroom environment and getting us under the yoke of special education hopelessness as quietly as possible. In the public school administration's view, autism parents, like nonspeaking students, should be compliant.

We are residents of Montgomery County now. I have very mixed emotions about moving. It was something I urged other parents in our former county not to do. At the time I truly believed that someone had to stay and fight for change. But things had reached a critical mass, and my husband realized, as many special needs families do, that migration towards better services is the only way to improve the quality of our children's lives.

Starting over sucks. There is no other way to put this. Moving with a neurodivergent young man is
Art Deco Styled Community Center, Greenbelt 
very stressful. You just don't know how he might react to leaving an area he's known since babyhood. He loved the Art Deco of the historic Greenbelt buildings, the throwback Mayberry RFD feel of the close knit small town in the middle of the beltway rush. It was always like stepping back in time in a good way. The Mother and Child Statue was his favorite place. And he loved the library and the the park in front of it.  I miss things about Greenbelt that are hard to explain if you haven't been there.  The Greenbelt Co-op supermarket and New Deal Cafe are among them.

Sign for New Deal Cafe, Greenbelt, MD
Mu and I haven't adjusted to the new neighborhood yet. We are strangers in a strange land. So I guess the historic Greenbelt nostalgia comes in part from that. But I'm also confronting a painful reality. Like increasing numbers of autism families we had to try and find some place where his needs would be met without the mountain of negative challenges constantly facing us in our old county. I miss Greenbelt, the New Deal town. I miss the light of understanding of where we were headed dawning on Mu quickly by the familiar turns in the road and the pedestrian crossings to buses,  the old town, the park or mall. I don't miss many more things however. I won't miss the obstinate need to retaliate for our speaking out to help our son, the ableism, in short the autism wars for inclusion. I won't miss the disparity in health care and education given him. I won't miss the presumption of incompetence that seemed standard fare for anyone considered  a foreign or non white parent.

I am taking each day as it comes. We are having a quiet holiday weekend with a convalescent Mu. The new home and neighborhood are lovely. Mu is transitioning well. We are working our way back to routines and the comforting patterns of everyday living.  The sadness of leaving a place I thought we would surely retire in will, in time, dissipate. Our family has become another data bit in the statistic of migrating families trying to make life better for their disabled children. Wish us luck.

More on Greenbelt can be found here


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