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Tuesday, September 17, 2013 8:45:00 AM

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m crabbier than usual.  Maybe people are ruder. Or maybe my son has just improved to the point where it doesn’t occur to people that my son has Autism, but lately random people have been saying things to and about my son that just irk me.

First. it was the woman in a museum gift shop who sarcastically asked my son how old he was because we was playing with a toy that is meant for a much younger child. She then turned to me, rolled her eyes and said, “Really, Mom, how about some age appropriate toys?”  I didn’t snidely inform her that ages on toys are tied to development and all children do not develop at the same rate, nor should they be made to feel bad about that.  To be honest, I kind of froze.  I was so busy watching my son to see if he was going to get the sarcasm or understand what she was saying and be offended. He didn’t, but it was because he and the nuerotypical friend he was with were having such a good time playing with the toys, they didn’t care. By the way, the nuerotypical boy, same age, didn’t pick up on the sarcasm either.   Still, I couldn’t just let it go, so when the boys were out of earshot I quietly took the woman’s supervisor aside and explained why she shouldn’t be making blanket assumptions about children’s abilities and interests. My comments were well received and I left feeling like the woman would be more aware before commenting again.

Then I went to see a new Dr. the other day.  I picked up my son from school and scurried him into the car to get there on time.  I checked his token economy chart to see that he had done a great job in school for the day.  His focus was great, he didn’t need prompting and he stayed on task all day.  It was time for him to get a break and a reward.  In the waiting room of the Drs. office I handed him my phone and told him he could have some uninterrupted game time.  He had earned it.  Then I grabbed a magazine for myself and in doing so the entire magazine rack came off the wall and spilled 3 magazines on the floor.  My son looked up and went right back to playing.  Along comes the nurse to help me pick up the magazines and she starts in on the full sarcasm assault of my son. 

“Way to be aware.”  She says to him.

Oh man.  Really?  Because the irony here is that she is the one who is not being very aware.  Yes.  In an ideal world, my son would have jumped up and helped me.  And believe me there are times when he does.  But he’s just spent 6 and half hours being aware at school.  His brain is on a much-needed vacation.  And instead of giving him a clear direction and saying, “Gee, I’ll bet your mom would really appreciate some help!”  She decides to be passive aggressive and throw some sarcasm his way.  Now he’s supposed to stop doing the thing he finds rewarding, listen to her, detect sarcasm, take stock of his behavior, notice what he did wrong and then change it.  That’s a lot to ask of any 10-year-old boy playing a video game after a long day at school, but for one with ASD it’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.  Both my son and I ignored her.

In my head though I started the conversation where I would say to her:

It’s possible that everything isn’t what you think it is.  Maybe the kid you think is rude has been fighting for two years to make eye contact with you, not because he wants to be able to make eye contact with you, but because he’s been told it’s important to you.

Maybe the child who is having a tantrum isn’t spoiled but has no other means of communicating their needs.  Maybe that parent that you think hasn’t disciplined their child is exhausted from fighting to get their child life changing services.  Maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything about anything.  Maybe you should think before you decide to speak. Maybe you should take a stroll in a pair of shoes other than your own and open your eyes to the challenges that face many individuals. 

I wanted to say it, but I didn’t.

Perhaps what I should have said to her was what she said to my son. “Way to be aware!”

Shannon Penrod is the Host of Autism Live an interactive, online video podcast that provides news, resources and support for parents, practitioners and teachers working with children with ASD as well as individuals on the Autism Spectrum.  Her son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. Visit www.autism-live.com to view the show and interact with Shannon and her guests.