My Twitter feed today featured this picture of a letter, shared by @lennonandmaisy, who shared on behalf of their good friend, who has a child with autism. Take a look:
I read this, then read it again, then made myself read it a third time. I hoped it was fake. In fact, part of my mind said it just had to be. Who would write a thing like this? How could they look at themselves in the mirror every morning? Please, don't let it be real.
But it is.
And sadly, as the mom of a child with autism, and friend to countless other parents of children with autism, and friend to numerous children and adults on the spectrum, as well, I knew it could probably be true even before I saw that it was.
I've never gotten a letter like this, but I've gotten the looks. The looks that say "Hey, lady! Control your damn kid!" or an arched brow that tells me beyond words that my kid is a brat because they just cleaned a spill in an aisle of the supermarket and the fumes from the industrial cleaner are burning his nose and making him shriek. And this is the aisle with the cake mix and frosting and I need to make his sister's birthday cake tonight so I can't just walk away that fast. Sorry.
Of course, I've gotten the occasional comment, too. There was the one time we went to the local pizza parlor, and as I stood paying for our slices, my son and his sister sat down at our usual table. Being typical siblings, they were teasing each other a bit. My autistic son, however, has a volume control frequently set at eleven. I heard his voice getting louder and turned from the counter to remind him to use his "inside voice" please, but the older woman at the next table was having none of it.
She turned in her chair, stuck her finger in my son's face and said loudly and sternly "Be quiet! Where is your mother?"
I hurried over immediately, apologizing to her and reminding David that we need to be a little quieter. He was fine with it, and even apologized himself. She wasn't done yet, though. She told me that in her day, her Mother would have never stood for her being that loud in public. She told me I was ruining their dinner. My son was ruining her dinner.
I had no choice. We couldn't sit there. We had to move because I couldn't guarantee that - like any nine year old boy - he wouldn't get a little loud before I could quiet him quickly enough for her. I grasped David firmly by the hand, nodded to his sister and said "We have to go to another table, David. All right?"
Oh, how not-all-right that was. That was our table. The table we almost always sat at. The table David knew as our table. And since he'd already sat down at our table, this was doubly not-all-right. Children with autism are all about their comfort zone and routine is comfort.
He fought me. He kicked. He screamed. He cried. He laid down on the floor. And finally, I had to stuff him under my arm and half-carry, half-drag him out to the car while his sister waited for our slices, now being wrapped to go.
And all of it happened while that supercilious bitch looked down her nose, firm in her belief that my brat kid was showing his brat colors, while my cheeks burned and I wanted to scream: "He's just a little boy! And you brought this on!"
Sometimes I take the time to educate, if they look like they'll be receptive. I've taken him to a couple of birthday parties where I've had to say: "Sorry he's making that noise, but the music is very loud and it's bothering him. He's autistic and it's kind of sensory overload. I'll just take him outside for a bit."
And sometimes, I'm too busy pulling him off the floor to educate. I need to calm him. I need to hold him. I need to let him know that I'm his rock in a furiously tilting world. I don't have time to explain.
The rotten part of that equation is that for some people, an explanation wouldn't matter anyway.