Tuesday, 5 April 2016

On awareness

Last week at the bus stop, I talked to another mom as we stood there waiting for the first child to make it off the bus. That child is autistic, with what is clearly SPD and is always crying and throwing his backpack, noise cancelling headphones, and finally himself at his mom as he exits the bus. She is likely trying to break him of the habit of expecting her to carry him off the bus, and I feel for her. He is probably 60+ pounds and nearly 5 feet tall, and she is quite tiny.

The mom I was chatting with looked slightly appalled as the usual routine crying and screaming took place. I noted that it could be hard sometimes as our children get older and bigger. That was when she replied, "Well, there is obviously something wrong with him. She should drive him to and from school in her car."

My son stumbled off the bus (his coordination is still problematic), and I commented, calmly, "He is autistic," as I steadied my son.

She replied, "Well, yes, you can see that he has problems. His poor mother."

I replied, "My son is autistic too."

She was nonplussed. I don't know what she was thinking. She did not, to her credit, tell me she was sorry for me or my son. She finally said, "Well, okay, I see." Then, "I know now. Good."

Her daughters jumped off the bus, giggling like mad, and we parted ways, but it left me a bit out of sorts.

This was the same lady who tried to talk to my daughter earlier that week, and when I told her Kitten is non-verbal, gave me a blank stare, then babbled a bit about how some children are shy and only talk to their parents, and I just let it go because I didn't want to get into it, and the bus was arriving.

This isn't the worst kind of person I have dealt with. My "favourite" is still the woman at Monkey's gym and swim who, upon learning that my son was autistic, asked, "Your son has autism? Are you sure that he should be in a class with kids who don't have autism?"

It isn't that folks are deliberately mean. It is just so discouraging that "awareness" is still lacking with most people.

I have to remember that most people, while they might know someone with an autistic child, or be related to someone who does, they are not immersed in non-optional autism awareness 24 hours a day. I forget that the terminology, the jargon of autism isn't common knowledge. For most people, autism awareness is barely on their radar, if at all.

That is why I don't agree when people say that the message should be "autism acceptance" or "embracing autism" rather than "autism awareness". For the parents, caregivers, teachers and professionals who are involved with autistics, we need to go beyond awareness, certainly, but the general public really does still need that basic education about autism that we find so familiar and simple. It is hard to accept, embrace or celebrate what you barely understand.

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