Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?”
- Henry David Thoreau

An interesting thing happened to my family today. We decided to get a quick bite to eat before Sofie’s dance class so we stopped off at a pizza buffet. We sat at a high-top table near the buffet which we had never really done with the kids before. It actually worked out pretty well because Bianca didn’t have such an easy time getting up and running around. The only real loser in the deal was Luis because the baby carrier was about a foot below the table.

I went for my first pass at the buffet and to grab a slice of pepperoni for Bianca. Pepperoni is her favorite. Not the pizza… just the pepperoni. She will rip it off and eat them one by one. I have even bought her pepperoni for the house and put it in her salads. They are always the first to go.

Elsa and I got involved in a conversation as Sofie ate nothing but oyster crackers and Bianca polished off the cheese and crust of her now pepperoni-less pizza while rocking left and right in her chair. People passed by with their plates full of salad, pizza, mashed potatoes, hot wings and pierogi as we wolfed down our food trying to make certain that we made dance class in time.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye I saw Bianca reach out and grab something from a lady’s plate as she walked past us from the buffet table. Elsa and I both started to apologize profusely.

When something like this happens, it is incredibly stressful. Anybody with a child that has Autism Spectrum Disorder knows… people can be cruel and display an amazing lack of understanding. Sometimes not intentionally, but to say it happens OFTEN is putting it lightly. Many autistic children appear normal on the outside. When they act up or start to have sensory issues, it is easy for an outsider to dismiss the situation as a parent that can’t control their child or somebody that has a bratty kid.

“I am so sorry.” Elsa said, “Our daughter is Autistic.” We have learned from experience to throw this out there as soon as possible so that people understand the situation at hand.

But unlike anybody else that we have ever encountered, this lady stood there with a smile on her face. She held her plate out to Bianca and asked her what it was that she wanted. Bianca grabbed the tomato and shoved it in her mouth with a smile. Mind you, this is a complete stranger’s child pawing at her plate with their bare, grubby hands… and she smiled.

“Oh it is OK.” Said the lady softly, “My oldest has Asperger’s. He is very high functioning, but has a tendency to say not very nice things at inappropriate times. He is 21 years old now.”

The lady gave Bianca a loving pat on the head and said goodbye.

My heart melted. Elsa was moved to tears. The woman never even threw the plate out, or went back and got another salad. She shared, and she did so willingly and happily. This woman displayed kindness and understanding on a level that is beyond comprehension for most… unless you have been there.

The experience has stuck with me all day. I can’t stop thinking about it. Why did the kind blonde lady with her starter salad react the way she did? It is understandable if she was nice and kind AFTER we told her about our daughter’s condition. But she was warm and loving from the start.

Empathy. It was pure, genuine, real… empathy. It was the ultimate example of having walked a mile in our shoes.

The world needs to discover a whole lot more empathy. It appears to be in short supply. Take a moment today to try to see something from another’s point of view. It can only make you wiser and more understanding. Then maybe someday you will find yourself in a position to shock a stranger with kindness and understanding too.

If you have not already, please take time to watch my videos, "Fixing" Autism and Autism Awareness with Nichole337 and share them with your friends.

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  1. That's a great story; it's very rare you come across someone with empathy for your situation. Usually you get angry stares from people who look like they are thinking "just control your kids".
    My middle child is the one of our 3 who does not have autism. She gets very upset when people stare at her older brother and younger sister. Sometimes she will simply ask, "Why are you staring? Do you have any questions? Max and Avery have autism, which means part of their brain is broken".
    She is always first to notice the “looks”, and will immediately jump to her sibling’s defense. One time I asked her if it embarrassed her, she said, “It used to, but now I just want to talk for them, because they can’t talk for themselves”. It’s pretty cool to see the looks in some of these “adults” faces when they are shamed by an 8 year old girl.
    Great blog – thanks for sharing.