...so why was I so unprepared for it? After all, M is six years old and his autism is more noticeable than ever.
Yet I was still sort of shocked when at the chiropractor's office a little boy began a series of questions that I hope I answered calmly, fairly, and in with my son's best interests at heart.
We had walked into the waiting room where this boy was playing. M plopped himself right on top of a segment of foam letters that the boy had just pieced together prompting the boy to yell, 'He's breaking my toy!'
I tried to steer away any further negativity by telling him that M just wanted to play with him. (I wish!) M began speaking in his gibberish, waving his conductor fingers in front of him, lips pursed, tongue out. The boy looked at his mother and I and said what I've known someone would say at some point...
'What's WRONG with him?'
Alright, Deb. Time to quickly get your wits about you. Don't snap at this kid even if you'd really like to. Use this as an opportunity to educate this boy.
So I confidently responded that M has autism, which means that his brain works a little differently than his and mine do. Oh, if only that could have been the end of it! The boy quickly responded--not once, but twice--'He's WEIRD.'
It's worth noting here that though I had never met this child before, I had met his mother and exchanged a few emails with her about the state of children's services where we live. This boy has been diagnosed with reactive detachment disorder. Knowing this, I was fortunately armed with a few grains of salt to his questions and comments. I try to live my 'new normal' life with the constant remembrance that you just don't ever know a person's full story. However, a child whose questions seemed rude-bordering cruel, and most certainly lacking of compassion--might have been harder to answer with kindness and patience had I not known beforehand the hardships he, like my own son, encounters each day of his life.
I finally encouraged the boy to ask his questions directly to M and to even introduce himself to him. I am very glad that I did this. Even though M has no ability for conversation, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that our little guy hears and understands most everything. After the boy told M his name, I asked M to repeat it. He did--in his own speak--and I was so, so proud of him. Unfortunately the boy immediately knocked him down again by saying, 'That didn't sound like my name at all.' Sigh...
I felt a strong need to stay in the waiting room with this boy and my children despite the tough questions and comments that continued to arise. His mother had slipped away in the middle of all this to be treated by the chiropractor. As I find myself doing in so many aspects of M's life, I wrestled internally with staying for the boys' benefit and leaving for my son's. Why was this so difficult for me? It should be a no-brainer that what was important was how M felt. I did finally decide that it was time for us to leave and that I had (hopefully) done my part in facilitating a healthy conversation. I was ever grateful to the office receptionist who happened to swoop in at the perfect moment...when the boy finally asked me, 'Did God make him this way?'
It may be my job to advocate for my son and educate others (when necessary) about his autism. It is NOT my job to talk about God and his hand in making my son who he is.
We left, and I spent the rest of the afternoon replaying and analyzing what was said. But mostly, I wondered with a heavy heart if my sweet boy understood that this boy was talking about him.
Oh, the mysteries of autism.
Mama Deb writes at This Is My New Normal.