I was looking at T-shirts online the other day and I ran across one that said, 'My kids are autistic...What's your excuse?!" and I am seriously considering buying one. I think if I do it will soon become my favorite shirt to wear when I take my boys outside our home. Not that I do that often because heaven knows a Russian missile launch is easier to plan and orchestrate than preparing 2 autistic children for an outing.
First there is the preparation of the backpack. Inside the backpack I have 2 diapers for each child, baby wipes, an extra T-shirt and a pair of pants for both boys, my wallet, keys, sunglasses, a small first aid kit, a snack, a sippy cup filled and ready to go with their favorite drinks, and if I was smart I would remember to bring an extra shirt for myself. But I never do.
And trust me, there are definitely days that I regret that decision.
Then comes the actual preparation of the boys. Diaper changes, shoes, socks, jackets, hats, and the like all need to be put on, but not too early or they will just strip them all off again. I am sure that many parents are reading this and thinking it doesn't sound all that different from getting a typical child(ren) ready to leave the house. They are probably right, to a point.
The most difficult part is the inability to prepare society and other people for the reality that is what autism looks like and acts like. In this world of political correctness and equal rights for all citizens you would think that a quintessential family place like the local fast food restaurant playground would be teeming with parents who have raised their young children to be compassionate, accommodating, and kind to others. And that when faced with a child who is of differing abilities or disabled they would have some knowledge of how to act.
Yeah, I used to think that way too.
Then I gave birth to my children and learned the cold hard truth.
The fact is the real problem is not so much with the children, its the parents. Adults are supposed to set the good example by practicing kindness so their children learn to be kind as well. Well, not to beat a dead horse over it but I just don't see it.
When I take my boys to a playground I hear the comments of the other mothers and fathers as they whisper amongst themselves. I see the stares and most distressing is I see their children watching them do it and learning in the process that people who are different are strange. And then I wonder why I am surprised that those same children call my boys 'stupid' or 'weird' and don't want to play around them.
More than a few times I have packed my boys up and taken them back home because I was sick of the drama and more often than not I was fuming and ready to start a little of my own.
One could argue that I am too sensitive. That I am setting myself up to fail by expecting other parents and children to behave as I was taught by my mother and father to respect all people regardless of their skin color, religion, or abilities.
But I do expect those things. Because it is the right thing to do.
And I am tired of watching parents sitting idly by while their kids pick on those who cannot defend themselves. Or parents who fail to install values and ideals in their children that run deeper than not wearing white after Labor Day or remembering to say "Please" and "Thank you". I am so frustrated by the lack of empathy around me that I actually contemplate wearing a t-shirt to announce my children's disabilities in hopes that someone will take the hint and cut me and my kids some slack.
Because honestly, my kids and I aren't going anywhere.
Autism, disabled citizens, and those with intellectual differences are all a part of this world we live in. We should not have to change who we are to fit the cookie cutter vision of Utopia that so many people think they live in.
So, I am thinking I will hold off on buying that T-shirt. Instead I think I will learn to take some more risks, suffer some more insensitive stares and whispers and wear my Mommy smile with pride as I watch my sons climb the playground slide, albeit a bit slower than most, and slide down to the bottom quickly so they can hurry up and do it all over again.
And if I happen to once again suck it up and sit myself down right next to one of these parents and start up a conversation about autism and in the process educate another adult on what it is and what it is not, than so be it.
Cause you know....its the right thing to do.