Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Autism Moment # 54,738

It happened again.  And I'm kind of venting, kind of mad, and usually, I don't complain about this but today I've just had it!  I have a sick stomach after I really meant to have a nice, fun lunch with my kids, who deserve to do fun things, too.  We hide in our backyard almost every day. 

For years and years, we did not go out to restaurants.  Sean's behavior would be so unruly, with him making his "stimming" sounds and needing to jump up and wiggle and sometimes his joy at hearing his voice echo so he will repeat a sound over and over again rather loudly, that we just stayed home. 

But in the last year or so, he's gotten to where we can venture out to restaurants that are "family friendly."  We do NOT go to quiet, intimate dining places with hushed whispers & creamy white tablecloths and wine lists longer than an old style yellow pages phone book.  But we do go to places like Olive Garden (which he loves) and burger joints.  And often, I plan our trip there to be just a little past peak lunch time, so it's not crowded. It's just that it is NOT predictable when a day will happen that he is NOT quiet, like he can be. 

Today, though.  We stopped at an old favorite for summer school time that is on our route back & forth the school where Sean is in summer school, kind of across town.  Herby K's is a one of those "character" places with awesome food but not so fancy atmosphere-- sort of like you've gone over to your friend's house and are sitting on their patio (in fact, the part where we like to sit is quite literally the patio of an old house that has been "plastic-ed" in and has AC and plants everywhere and a very long communal picnic bench where everyone sits next to each other, regardless of whether you knew them a minute ago.) 

I haven't been there in a while, but I LOVE their gumbo.  Sean loves that they have sodas in the old fashioned small green glass bottles.  (Maia also loves the gumbo, and the kids' menu which she can color).  We stopped in, got a seat "above" the crowd-- sort of the balcony benches, so, sort of apart from everyone.  I was semi relaxed because the place is noisy, and no one usually gives us a second look.  And usually, because Sean loves it so much, he's kind of on his best behavior.

But this group of people who got there a few minutes before us, a group of maybe 8, caused the "happened again" moment that makes my stomach clench and me to no longer enjoy my lunch out with my good kiddos. 

Listen:  this group was not quiet themselves-- telling loud jokes and letting their very young kiddo play with a fork, then laughing at her when she stabbed herself in the face (?!) and--seriously-- not taking said fork away from the child until she did. it. again.  So it's not like they really had any room to throw stones from their glass house.  I wouldn't have even cared to notice except that the fork stabbing behavior happened after the below mentioned issue, so I was very hyper aware of them.  (Andrew tells me I shouldn't let it bug me but it Just Does.)

But Sean was happy, and stimming a little bit.  This means he was happily jumping up and down to look at the restaurant from our "porch" high perch rather than sitting still on the bench.  And he was eating sugar packets (yes, he spilled one down on the ground before I realized what he was doing, since I was setting up Maia with a game to keep her occupied.)  The only person who really should have cared about that was the waitress, who knows us as regulars, and to whom I apologized & tipped well.

The sugar dropping is when the "turning around to stare at us" started.  The mom (maybe in her mid to late forties) of this group of several young women literally turned fully around FOUR times.  Without, mind you, meeting my glance but just to look in our direction (which was not exactly a normal place for her to have been looking, given that it was only us, and we were up and in a corner away from her.) 

And it's not like he was being THAT unusually loud.  They also nudged each other pointedly a couple of times when he was making noise, and said something in each other's ears.  If he's really being wild, I leave, even if it's a noisy place.  But seriously-- we have a right to be there too.  

I had to restrain myself (and the inner b*tch that comes from my loud, sometimes obnoxious upbringing) from saying "He has autism-- what's YOUR problem?"  or "rudely stare at special needs kids much?"

I mean, seriously.  One look at us would be all you really need to establish that yes, he is behaving a little more wiggly, a little louder, than your average kid.  And I am (apparently) letting him.   (Although sometimes I think that I am even more annoying to those around me with  my attempts to correct him with "Sean sit, Sean behave, Sean don't be so loud").

Because it's impossible to stop him.  Imagine talking your cat into doing a few of the "normal" tricks your dog might be perfectly happy to perform and you've got the difference between an autistic and a "normal" kid. 

Get your cat to fetch, or maybe roll over a few times on command.  That is how it is to talk Sean into sitting still, and not stimming a little bit.  You don't have to turn around repeatedly to ascertain that yes, it's still us, the only other group in the restaurant with you, making all that noise.  (And let me repeat-- they were very loud themselves!) 

This is one glimpse into our world, folks.  It's something that families with autistic kids go through all the time, and I do understand the "neurotypical" person's reaction.  We are a bit odd.  Yeah.  Granted.  But didn't your mama teach you NOT TO FREAKIN' STARE?!

That many times and you're attempting to shame me for my child's "bad" behavior.  You're giving me that look because you think I should "do something" about his noise, his quirky wiggling, his looking at you for more than a second.  His yelps and odd noises. 

All I ask of folks is this:  anytime you see a parent (whether they are neurotypical or not) with a kid that is being "unruly" in your judgement, bite your tongue.  Don't stare.  If you really are curious, ask.  Some parents would get mad, but some are willing to explain.  I get so tired of telling people "he's autistic; he's not trying to be bad".  I think if it were a more physically obvious disability, adult people wouldn't make such a big deal about it. 

Look somewhere else.  You don't have to ignore us (eye contact is just fine, just like with any other human being you encounter in a friendly situation.)

The person you are staring at might be the "clueless jerk" you think they are who is oblivious to their child's behavior or it's quite possibly YOU who is being a little clueless and ruining someone else's lunch, or judging them without enough information.  I know that since I have had an autistic kid, when I see a mom or dad who has a squirmy, yelling kid (of any sort), nowadays, I just leave them alone.  I mind my own business.  Because I don't know WHAT it might be, and I also know that she/he might be just ignoring something they could fix or they might be picking their battles and worrying about the stuff you can fix over the unchangeable nature of their child's life. 

You have no idea how nice it is when Sean is acting a little wild and no one stares at us, and people just go about their own lives and I don't feel like I have to apologize for my family's existence. 

Okay.  Rant over.  Sorry for being so crabby about it but since I didn't want to make a scene in the restaurant, I am writing to the universe in the hopes that this message gets through to at least one person who might think about acting like this woman did today.  Just. 



cheairs frank said...

Please know that you are not alone in how you feel. We have also had so many moments like this. Thank you for sharing your story. Blogger is not accepting my url so I am going to leave it in the comment section.
Redefining Typical A Mother a Son a Journey with Autism

Cambria Stamper said...

Kim, that woman was entirely out of bounds! Her turning around to look at you four times was aggressive and offensive. I'm so sorry you had to deal with her ignorance and self-righteousness. It's the self-righteousness that is harder to deal with, especially with the unconscionable laughter at the girl poking herself with the fork the second time.

I think there is also a much higher expectation that children should act like adults, being quiet and still, than there should be. I hope once some time has passed from this incident that you continue to go out.

Sending support from afar,