Last week we went to the mall to watch our oldest son dance. (He’s very into hip-hop, and it is adorable, but I digress.)
As I mentioned in my last post, wherever we go, we’re sort of a tornado. A Yatesnado, if you will.
We found a seat in the crowded mall and while I wrangled Diva (3) my husband did his part to keep Danger (6) with us. Danger Boy is autistic, and he’s prone to wandering. And on this particular occasion there was a lot going on in the mall, and all of the activity was making him VERY fidgety. So my husband did his best to hold him in his lap, and keep him occupied.
A woman sitting in front of us turned around and remarked on how beautiful our children were. Then she looked at Danger and added, “But not very well behaved.”
It was said in a teasing tone, I think, the kind adults use when they think they might get a child’s attention. Like, if he’d been a typical child maybe he would have realized this woman noticed he was giving his dad a hard time, and he’d straighten up.
But he’s not a typical child. And I sort of sat there, ready to say it. Or ready to say something angry. Or…something. But instead I just smiled. Because I felt right then that I didn’t owe her an explanation. She was a stranger, someone I’ll probably never see again, and right then, I felt mutinous. Because I didn’t want to say “Oh, he’s autistic.” Because this perfect stranger was not entitled to our story so that she could be more comfortable. Because in that moment I felt that HE HAD A RIGHT to the way he was acting.
The thing is, he will never be in step with society. Things will perturb him that don’t perturb other people. He will behave in a way that doesn’t appear ‘normal.’ But doesn’t he have that right? I mean…really, doesn’t he have the right to be the person he is? To take up space like the rest of us, to act in a way that is natural to him?
He does. From the bottom of my heart, I think he does. I think his life should be about MORE than modifying his behavior to make those around him more comfortable. But I fear people will always look at him and think, “he’s not very well-behaved.”
Back to the mall, there was a flashmob shortly after that. Really. A choir sang a beautiful Christmas song, and Danger started to cry. Because sometimes music makes him cry. The same woman looked at him again and said, “I don’t think he feels good.”
This time I did respond. “He’s autistic. And sometimes music makes him cry.”
She was instantly apologetic and we ended up having a conversation. So it ended on an okay note, but it definitely got me thinking. About people. About the way we see them.
It’s cliche to say that you should reserve judgment of people because you don’t know what they’re dealing with, but oh well. I’m saying it anyway. That child screaming on the floor might not be spoiled. They might be autistic and over-stimming. They might be a spoiled child, or a tired child, too. But either way…does it really matter?
I am that parent destined to have a child who’s misunderstood. And my tendency is to try and minimize people’s reaction to him. To try and make it so people don’t notice. And to a degree, I think that’s fine. I think it’s good for me to teach him appropriate behaviors, because I think he can learn them. (For example, just because it’s hard for him to be mindful of his feet does not mean I’m going to ALLOW him to kick the chair of the person in front of him on a plane) But I’m so quick to want him to be quiet in a store when he’s vocalizing. They’re happy sounds. But they aren’t socially appropriate. But they’re how he expresses himself. And they might make other people uncomfortable for a few minutes, but I think…I think that’s okay.
Because he will not blend in. It isn’t possible. And why should he? So that other’s won’t experience a moment of discomfort? So that *I* won’t experience the discomfort of someone looking at me and saying, “He’s not very well-behaved”?
Heaven forbid I silence him because of my own pride. Because he has a lot to teach people. And more than that, he has a life to live, that is HIS. He’s not simply here for the enrichment of others, or for the enrichment of ME, even though he’s taught me more about patience and acceptance than anyone else in my life, no, he’s here because HE has a life he’s meant to live. Because he has a place in the world.
Even if it’s sometimes a noisy place. 😉