It’s hot in Texas, ridiculously hot. Sometimes the only relief I can offer my kids from the boredom of staying indoors is a trip to a park with a splash pad. It distracts them for a while and D has an especially good time being the water bug he is. That doesn’t mean I can let my guard down though.
On our last visit a little boy about five years old approached D. He wanted the toy my son had in his hand. D didn’t really have an interest in playing or sharing so he guarded his toy and kept running away from the boy. Frustrated, the boy told his mother that D had his toy. My anxiety went through the roof. How do I diffuse this situation and tell this boy’s mother he’s lying? Before I was able to stand up another mom spoke out and said, “No, that’s his toy. He’s been playing with it this whole time.”
Crisis averted. The mom that spoke up was cool, calm and collected. She had been watching also. Why had I not been able to muster up the same confidence as quickly as she did?
The kids continued to play and finally the little boy asked my son what his name was. D didn’t make eye contact and kept playing by himself, from the outside it looked like my son did not hear him but I knew he did. Again the boy approached, asked and did not get a response. After the fourth time he went and got his mother. If you have read my post When Other Moms Are Rude you’ll understand why I gave them their space. (Long story short: D and I were callously rejected at a park when I tried to explain he had autism and could not speak.)
She got down to her son’s eye level and told him to ask again nicely. At this point I got up and walked toward them. I told them his name and explained that he could not yet respond because he has autism. I wasn’t ready for the response I got though. Her jaw dropped and she said, “Oh! I’m so sorry! I had no idea!” I just said, “it’s ok” and walked back to my seat in the shade. Her response felt a bit much, at the most I expected an acknowledgment like “oh ok”. Instead I felt awkward because in her mind autism warranted over-sympathy. I really wanted to tell her that it’s just a word that means he learns differently than other children, but I didn’t.
Did I really have to?
When I see or meet other families with children on the spectrum I acknowledge them first with an understanding smile. It’s a silent camaraderie. If we happen to strike up a conversation – great! If not, it’s perfectly fine. We have our hands full as it is, worrying about having a coherent exchange is at the bottom of our list of priorities. We know our struggles are different but at the root of it all are our children, bound by the same diagnosis.