Autism Watch: 2007

How’s Your Son Doing?

Posted on: September 3, 2008

Not a hard thing to say, is it? Judging by how often I hear it though, it must be.

I have a lot of friends with kids, and a few without. All kids get sick, so all parents know what it’s like to worry about your child. When I talk to one with a sick child, I ask “how’s your son/daughter? feeling better?” Who wouldn’t, right?

I guess though when your child has a chronic illness or a disorder, it no longer matters. Or is that just an anomaly with autism?

It’s one of those things I just need to overlook, and a few friends I should probably blow off, but it still really surprises me when someone sends me the 18th email about her son’s latest antics (starting preschool, losing a tooth, getting an award — all normal things parents get excited about) and there’s never, in any of the included conversation, “how’s your son?” I get “How’s xxx and xxx doing? And xxx?” but when it comes to ds, it’s like he’s not there. I can respond, answer the questions, then say “And my little guy is doing great — got an award in school last week and graduated from occupational therapy!” The response, if any, is “Glad to hear xxx and xxx and xxx are doing great.” The following silence is deafening.

So what is it? Do I just know a couple of abnormally rude people, or is this another one of those autism-related phenomena, like it being okay to kick an autistic child out of church, or yell at an autistic child for crying in a restaurant, but not okay to yell at the rude adult talking loud on the cell phone or the drunk person on the airplane?

Thankfully, I have a wonderful support system in place. I have great friends who are like family, and I don’t need the people in my life who can’t acknowledge my son, but the bigger question is “why?” What is it about autism that makes people afraid to mention it? To ask how he’s doing? To congratulate him on something I say he’s done or to understand that just getting in the pool at swim class is an accomplishment?

So why is autism the huge elephant under the rug that people will notably skip around to avoid? (Or, because it’s a favorite movie scene of mine, the feet sticking out from under the curtains where the goofy bad guy is hiding while calling the victim on her cellphone in the same room?)

My son is my son. I love him. I adore him. He is a creative, unique character and I just never know what he’s going to say or do next. I am blessed with him. He’s amazing. I want to talk about him like anyone else wants to talk about their children, neurotypical or not. Why is that hard to understand? Do people not think that far, or are they afraid they’ll say something stupid? And if that’s the case, why not ask me about autism? I’ve had quite a few people do that — admit they know little to nothing about it, or have no experience with it, and ask me a bunch of questions, for a book to read, or a website to learn more at. The closest people in my life have done this…and that’s not a surprise. The only people who can get close to me would be people that are willing to get down in the trenches with me, who now understand about autism, by choice, and watch or read about it when they run into it. They advocate awareness without even knowing it, and they understand when I can’t go out because I need to stay home with my son. They aren’t afraid to let him run around their house while we have dinner, and they invite him over to play with their closed-aged children. He is invited to their parties, and they’re not embarrassed when he has a fit. They accept him for who he is, and who he’s trying to be, instead of excluding him or making assumptions.

Maybe it’s just a sign of the busy times. People just not having enough time, or people worried they really will say the wrong thing, or maybe they figure ‘eh, he’s verbal and smart, how bad can it be.’ (Heard that one before.)

Whatever it is, what do you do about it? I’ve chosen to move on, though there’s still a bit of annoyance from time-to-time. In the end, I’ve lost a couple of friends because I just don’t wish to spend more time patting their back when my son doesn’t exist beyond the initial ‘ohhhhh……’ when I told them about his diagnosis. He suddenly became the invisible child, and that’s unacceptable to me. Accept my child, or don’t bother pretending. I don’t know a single parent of any special needs children that don’t feel the same.

4 Responses to "How’s Your Son Doing?"

I think you hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head when you suggested that maybe you should blow these “friends” off. That might be a bit harsh, though. I don’t know… Maybe, if you have the chutzpah (which I totally wouldn’t), you could ask them if your son somehow makes them uncomfortable and tell them that it hurts your feelings when they don’t ask about him. Maybe they just don’t know what to say so they say nothing?

What a great post. I am sitting here, a single mom of four. My second oldest has autism. He will be 7 this month. My oldest is eight, my other 2 are 5 and 3. About 4 years ago we were in New Mexico and people at our CHURCH could not get it through their brains that my son was looking at a diagnosis of Autism. They judged him. They judged me. And most importantly, they never invited us to their homes more than once. Living 36 hours away from family in an unhappy marriage with an undiagnosed non-verbal autistic child was more than a challenge. I told people time and again that we were reaching out for answers, and time and again we were snubbed. Cruel comments were made about my parenting and about my son being a “brat.” A word that I loathe. I now stop dead in my tracks if I hear it muttered.

Most recently it was in a McDonald’s when they had changed the Happy Meal toys and my son had an absolute melt down. I had to lock him in my grasp, usher my littler boys out while my daughter followed, silently picking up all the items her brother threw. But when that silver haired woman dared to utter the word, I turned, smiled, and through clenched teeth I corrected her. MY beautiful son is Autistic.

you touched a raw nerve here. I am blessed to have some core people in my life who are GREAT about things. some more “acquaintance” types have been strangely silent when I told them about my son’s diagnosis, or just said, “Oh, he will be okay”. I can relate to SO much of what you wrote.
sometimes I wish I could plan a big internet-buddies playdate so we could all get together!

I’m so glad I found your blog. I know just what you mean. I flip-flop between people not caring or not knowing what to say, and the people who either act like he has a terminal illness or are waiting for the freak-show to start. They ask me questions like “How is your son doing?” and goes on to just satisfy their curiosity. Yes, he has a special need but he isn’t a novelty or a side show. He is a little boy. I also have people say “oh he’s fine” “he’ll be ok”. To them he will be fine because they can walk away and not deal with all of it.

Thanks sharing these things.

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