You stood, a little to the left of the line-up, waiting for your food at the local Tim Horton’s. Well dressed, and with your hair done “just so”, you almost seemed too posh to be standing where you were. There was a scowl on your face that seemed so etched in that one would almost say it was permanent. You made no sound to anyone, but you didn’t need to: your general disdain was like a perfume whose scent you’ve become so used to that you can no longer tell how much you’ve put on.
I stood in the line with my family, 5 or 6 people back from you. We were there to treat ourselves to something nice, in an effort to shake off some of the residue of what had been a bad week. The expression on my face mirrored my partner’s: worn out, irritated and a little sad.
My daughter, thank the gods, was being on her best behaviour. She quietly eyed the display of delicious-looking cookies and donuts, knowing full well that one of them would soon be hers. This was rare for her. No, it’s not terribly rare for her to be getting a treat at one of her favourite places, but it is rare for her to be so well behaved while waiting for it.
Usually, she is one to act out the most out of the two kids.
My son, on the other hand, was determined to lie down on the dirty floor in spite of the grip I had on his hand. I must have told him to stand up, in a normal tone, about 10 times all told. He kept doing it regardless of what I said because, frankly, he can be single-minded like that. That inherent single-mindedness is not only part of being a little boy, but it’s part of being a little boy with Autism.
You wouldn’t know that he- and his sister, for that matter- was Autistic, unless you knew him well, or even just knew what some of the characteristics of Autism were.
It must have been after I had told him to stand up for the 8th time, that you turned around and looked at my son (who was still sprawled on the floor just then) with a roll of your eyes, and then shot me a dirty look. It was a look I’ve seen before, no doubt like many parents of special needs kids.
It’s the look seems to suggest I ought to discipline my child better, or maybe that I’m not a good parent.
It’s the look that asks, in silent judgement: “What’s wrong with your child?”
I ignored you then, despite wanting to tell you off for staring so rudely.
After the 10th time of wearily telling my boy to stand up and hauling him to his feet, his father chimed in, with a stern tone of voice- a command.
It was not a yell. It was not belittling or abusive. It was just a tone that brooked no argument. Our boy shot to his feet and stayed there.
That’s when your food arrived (thank god). You grabbed it off the counter, and stared at my partner and I in judgement and disdain. I didn’t say anything, but stared right back until you passed behind me.
As an Autism parent, I meet a lot of people like you- people who think that Autism is just an excuse for “bad” behaviour.
People who don’t think there’s really anything different about kids like mine, and that they should be treated- and expected to behave- like every other “normal” child out there.
People who call kids like mine retards.
People who think these kids’ “bad” behaviour is the result of bad parenting.
Your attitude, and that of many like you, is one side of a coin. On the other side are those people who believe all the clichés about Autism: that people with this disorder are always geniuses, or they have some special gift (think Rainman), or whatever.
I don’t have as hard of a time tolerating those people, no matter how irritating it can be to try to dispel the myths that have cropped up around Autism, because I know they aren’t saying them out of any disdain. It comes from a place of assumptions, but not from a place of judgement.
I can be at peace with their attitude, no matter how misguided it may be.
People like you, though, make my job as an Autism parent all the harder. As it stands, I find myself constantly having to advocate for my children’s rights and needs more than a parent of “normal” children might. Even though my kids are only 5 and 3, I have already had to stand up to quite a few ignoramuses on their behalf.
I know that my children will likely have a lifetime of dealing with bullies and people like you, simply because they don’t behave like other kids, and that truly hurts my heart.
I wish we lived in a world where people remembered that there are always two sides to a story. Things are not always the way they look on the surface.