Autism Watch: 2007

Public Awareness=Better Public Reaction to Autistic Children?

Posted on: May 27, 2008

There’s been so much public awareness in the last year, and while I’m all for public education, I’m not sure that it’s making the difference that I’ve hoped for. Am I hoping for too much?

I recently got into a discussion regarding public response and public perception of our kids. I began to hear about situations other families had dealt with while out and about with their autistic child, and I had to stop reading for a few minutes because some of it was just too raw. I like to think that as a community, we’re moving forward, but then I hear these things and wonder, are we really? At what point, if any, will we as parents stop being in the position of having to explain or defend our child, or just learn to ignore the rudeness of strangers?

Don’t get me wrong — overall, this isn’t a dot on my big radar….but maybe it should be? I have many other things to worry about, and I don’t want to spend my time on unnecessary things, but unless our children stay at home all the time, commentary from strangers shouldn’t be something we should have to suffer through whenever we take our child out and he/she has a bad moment.

This past weekend, I took my son to the store and he had a meltdown. I hadn’t taken him shopping in a long time, so I had high hopes that our trip in for two items would be fast, but there were only two checkstands open in this huge store, despite many uniformed employees standing around talking, and we had to wait. That’s the kiss of death. By the time we finally got out of the store, ds was yelling at the top of his lungs to me: he hates me, doesn’t love me, and so forth. People were staring, and as much as I think to myself “just ignore them, they don’t know” I can’t help but notice them. I was trying to get ds to the car as quickly as possible, Starbucks in hand (his Icee, his shopping treat, ha, was being carried by my 13 yod), and ready to throw the tea into the nearest trashcan just to get him to the car, when a couple of things occurred to me: one, that I’m not wasting my Starbucks just because he is having a meltdown, and two, I can’t let him control every outing, even if it’s with negative behavior. (You can see I have a thing for Starbucks, right?) So we trudged onwards…and I turned around and saw a mother and daughter looking at us. I was prepared for the typical “geez, nice kid you got there” comments when she said something I’d never heard before: “I’m sorry he’s saying those things to you,” with a truly sympathetic smile. I was speechless. I have snappy comebacks for those who butt in rudely, but this woman was sincere, and wasn’t the average ignorant nosey person who wanted to mind my business. So I just gave her a quick smile, and continued towards the car. I got home, told dh, and he said “You didn’t need a comeback, she was being nice.” How sad is it that the well-intended comments like hers are so rare, I have nothing to say? I don’t think she expected a response, I clearly had my hands full, but it was so nice to hear something nicer than “shut that kid up” that I felt like I should have acknowledged to her how welcome something not mean is. People just don’t realize the effects of their words, neither positive nor negative.

We are four weeks away from our big family trip. I found our autism pins, and I need to be sure I put one on ds’s shirt before we head for the airport. (Can pins get through airport security checks? Anyone know?) It says something like “I’m not misbehaving. I have autism. Please be nice.” (Not exact wording, but pretty close.) I don’t want some nasty stranger ruining our trip, yet as someone pointed out to me, my son’s issues aren’t necessarily anyone else’s business. I don’t see sick people having to explain why they walk slow, or people in wheelchairs having to apologize for the fact they take up more space..and they shouldn’t have to, so why do we parents of autistic kids have to deal with the nastiness of others?

I’ve pontificated (big word day) on this topic before, and have no real answer. It comes up sporadically, depending on how things are going. My predominant thought is that society today still thinks that it’s their job to mind others’ business under the guise of ‘helping’ them. Yet there’s no real help when they comment on my parenting or my child’s behavior. True help would be asking me if they could carry that bag to the car for me so I can carry my son, or gathering his shoes from various parts of the parking lot so I can leave. True help would be turning away as soon as they see it’s not a mass murderer attacking me. True help is true compassion and understanding, and there’s too little of that today. Instead, there are snide remarks and threats…yet many of them probably go home to unsafely dirty homes, abusive spouses, fridges full of unhealthy food, too much of the bottle, or any number of other things that would make them questionable if someone put them under the spotlight. Just because I’m in public doesn’t mean that my life is public or that my life is open to their prying eyes. Why is that so hard to get people to understand?

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3 Responses to "Public Awareness=Better Public Reaction to Autistic Children?"

I’m with you on the pontification. I don’t like explaining when either of my sons are actually with me. Let me know when you figure out the best approach.
Cheers

I know what you mean about wearing a pin, sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the looks. I think with the airport that you might be able to call ahead and ask for an escort through security since you have someone with a disability in your party. It’s worth looking into, because if they decide to choose him for a search, they will want him to stand apart from you and follow their directions. Ugh!

What a great idea! I’ll do that — I was worrying about the security line making him anxious right at the start of a very long trip. Thanks!

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