What comes around…
Last week, the autism blog world was in an uproar over a post written by a woman who witnessed a child who was clearly autistic, even though the poster didn’t recognize it. There’s been some discussion since about how anyone can diagnose the child based on the writer’s description (and it’s really irrelevant to the discussion), but let’s face it, we can. Most of us (correctly) diagnose kids in the grocery store every day. We can spot those kids a mile away, and even easier, we can spot their caregivers simply by the words they speak. “Yes, granddaughter, you are being very patient waiting in line,” even when it’s obvious the child isn’t being patient in terms of neuro-typical standards. But we know that language; it’s the language of someone who has probably worked harder than anyone to get that child where she is, actually in a library, standing there without screaming, seeing another child doing what she wants to do without having an earth shattering melt-down. Let’s face it, that’s something to be rewarded with praise.
Yet this blogger responded with harsh judgement at how both the child and the grandmother were handling themselves. Couched in humor at a child’s expense, she praised her own behavior in not verbally condemning the pair, all the while congratulating herself for her own restraint. In actuality, that grandmother probably went home and celebrated how well her granddaughter did at the library that day waiting “patiently” in line. We’ve celebrated those things; the first time C left the park without a tantrum, the first time I was actually able to get him into the grocery store (see here), and the first time C made it through a movie. These are big deals for us, and I’ll just bet that somewhere out there a grandmother is still glowing about how well her little one did at the library that day.
I was struck, as I read the post and the comments that followed, by how much that woman sounded like me BC (that is, “Before C”). I was the one in the grocery store wondering why a mother couldn’t control her screaming child. I was that person who, it pains me to admit, would have glared at a child disrupting the sacred quiet of the library. I was the one on the airplane groaning inwardly if I was unlucky enough to sit near a toddler. I would like to think I hid all that from the mothers parenting those children, yet I know how terrible I am at hiding any emotion I have. I’m quite sure I was responsible for my fair share of causing other people pain.
Then, nine years ago, I received my cosmic lesson in the form of C. He changed everything for me. I became the mother who worked so hard with C before ever stepping foot in the library on his “library voice.” It’s hard for other people to understand just how much work it takes to get our children to do what they do. You see, we, and other parents like us, try to anticipate every single possibility that might arise in any given situation. And we train for them. Sometimes, we just miss, and sometimes our kids just aren’t there yet. “Didn’t you talk to him about not sending the bowling ball down someone else’s lane?” Husband innocently asked after hearing my tale of C standing in his own lane and somehow sending the ball right over the middle into the next guy’s lane. Then we laughed at ourselves for ridiculously trying to be two steps ahead of C when we’re really two steps behind.
The irony of my own situation in once being like that blogger is not lost on me. For all our talk about helping our children with autism learn empathy, the fact that I had my own lesson to learn about empathy, and that I had to learn that lesson from my own child…well, I suppose that is my cross to bear. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t know there’s some version of karma operating here. The thing is, I’m so thankful for that karma. I can say with a smile that I am so much better than the person I was ten years ago. I haven’t been given just what I can handle; I’ve been given exactly what I need.