Tuesday, December 11, 2012

That Awkward Moment When... - 2012 Blogging Advent Calendar Day 11



That awkward moment when a stranger starts talking to your non-conversational autistic child, and waits for a reply.

It happens a lot with us. We will be at Target or the grocery store and inevitably a little old lady will see Bianca and want to compliment her. Bianca is a really pretty little girl… big eyes, long hair and an incredible smile. Her looks betray her more severe autistic traits in the eyes of a stranger. They just see a pretty little girl who is smiley and singing. Her looks also work against her when she is melting down as well because she looks like a 7 year old that has parents that do not know how to control their child.

So what do we do when that moment comes in which the well-intended stranger comes up and asks Bianca her name, or how old she is only to get what they perceive to be the cold shoulder? Added to the mix is the fact that we are Latino. I could pass for a whole myriad of ethnicities, but my wife is pretty clearly Mexican. So then the nice person starts to speak slower and LOUDER. I think it is because they may suspect Bianca doesn’t speak English, but it could also be that they think she is deaf. 

At any rate, whatever they try the results are the same… no response, or a response that is scripting from a favorite TV show that is not an expected response to the question being asked.

Stranger: OH! What a beautiful little girl you are! What is your name little lady?
Bianca: Echo bush! Tall mountain!
Stranger: And how old are you?
Bianca: Ariba, up. Abajo down.

Next comes the look; the look at me the parent that says, “A little help here?”

I have fantasies of just telling the stranger an elaborate tale of our daughter being adopted and raised by wolves like Mowgli or that she only speaks telepathically… not because I am embarrassed or ashamed of her autism… I just think it would be funny.

In reality we are always very honest and forthcoming with anybody that asks about Bianca’s situation or seems confused by her failure to respond. It serves as a tool to educate. I always point out what her particular traits are and I let them know that her autism will not be at all similar to any other individual’s autism. I also feel like if I can introduce people to Bianca, then they suddenly have a connection to autism. They can put a face to the disorder and hopefully they will care a little more.

I do the same with dirty looks. I talk to the person and I do so without demeaning them. If I can explain to the person the situation, perhaps they will be less likely to judge so negatively. Maybe they will be more sympathetic to the family they see at a restaurant with a kid acting up? Were we so aware before autism was introduced to us? I doubt it.

Unfortunately though, no matter how nice you are to some people, it seems to be of no use. It reminds me of the story that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family, often told to the adolescent on the cusp of adulthood. A lesson told that we feel helps to prepare a young person for dealing with the real world. I remember the first time I heard it. My grandfather told me that we had to talk and we went for a walk in the woods. As we walked down the path, the house faded into the trees and grandpa stopped and said to me, “Luis… some people are just assholes.”

I totally made that up. I learned that lesson on my own.





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