Shortly after Shaun received his autism diagnosis, we met another family who had a child on the spectrum. He was probably about 15 or 16, and quite committed to his autism (we don't like high and low functioning labels, but that's in another post). While us adults chatted, this older boy spotted their dog and started acting like a dog. Shaun thought this was the greatest thing. He joined right in! They were laughing, having a blast, interacting. This was before Shaun had started school and was not nearly as interactive as he is now, nor did he engage in pretend play. I thought it was great! They were having fun. Together. As a mother, I loved seeing that interaction. It was sweet.
But rather than letting these boys have their moment, his parents quickly put an end to it. They ushered him off and shut him in his bedroom. Out of sight. And then--- they apologized. It wasn't as if we were passing judgement, they knew our situation as we knew theirs. He wasn't hurting or bothering anyone, just having fun.
Throughout all of these years, that moment stuck with me. It bothered me that they would do something like that... to just shut away their child so he wasn't a bother.
Here's the thing--- this attitude isn't isolated. So many people actually truly think that autistic people or those with other special needs should just stay at home where they will not be a bother to others. I've had people say it to me. I've heard people say it about other children, not knowing that I too had a child with special needs.
With the negative attitudes we so often face, to be honest- sometimes it would be easier to just stay home. We wouldn't have to deal with judgement or criticism. We wouldn't have to worry about the noises and the lights and the people that no one else notices but that are deafening and blinding to someone with sensory issues. We wouldn't have to worry about the meltdown that followed that over-stimulation--- because it's never just that ONE thing they're crying about that seems insignificant to onlookers. We wouldn't have to worry about the safety issues that arise when you have child with no sense of danger... yes, it would be easier to just stay home. But then we are the same as those parents--- shutting away our child so he doesn't disrupt YOUR day. We would keep our child from having a good time, from joking around, from truly living and experiencing life like every other kid. He would never learn to behave in social situations- to work, to grow, to find the skills that work for him to meet those challenges he's is faced with. And so we live--- just like everyone else. Sometimes there are meltdowns. Sometimes people are rude and as a mother bear I have to resist the urge to start aiming for toes with my shopping cart. Sometimes we just have to allow that time to run around in circles without interruption to focus that energy in a way that is not harmful to anyone. And sometimes yes, we have to leave... but we will NEVER say that we will not try. We will never be those parents who shut their child away and apologize for them (he's capable of apologizing himself, when truly and actually warranted).