Sunday, July 5, 2009

Food for thought, courtesy of the food court

Took the kiddos to the mall in Winston today to have lunch and walk around. In the same fashion as some of my favorite autism bloggers, our family is big on bringing Jaymes everywhere. He comes grocery shopping, to the mall, to the video store, to the DMV. Wherever I go, so does he. We don't believe in keeping autistic children (or any children, for that matter) hidden away for the comfort and convenience of the masses.

I often take for granted Jaymes size. No matter how wild, hyper, even violent he might get, he's tiny. Situations are relatively easily handled, although I do admit it's hard to hold onto him screaming and flailing for long periods of time. There was, however, an occurance in the food court that made me think.

Half the occupants of the food court area turned at the sound of a 15ish year old boy shrieking and apparently engaging in a struggle with two women- one older, one in her 20's maybe? I'm really bad with ages, so I'm probably way off on everyone. Anyway, as they got closer, the boy managed to jerk away from who I assume was his mother and sister, and bolted for the arcade area. Most of the people sitting at the tables were laughing, or pointing, or looking outraged. The word "retard" was heard more than once.

It's funny how easily we autism families can identify it. To be fair, it was very obvious. The hand flapping, squealing, the excited wild running up and down the arcade. it was a much larger, african american version of Jaymes. The sister actually went by and we chatted with her for a few minutes while the mother darted around after the kid. They seemed like nice people. A few tables around us listened to our conversation, and when the family took off (literally, the son had wrestled free of his mother's grip and shot off at full speed past Sonic and the Japanese place and out of sight), one woman came over and said she was sorry for what her table had said. apparently she heard me ask if the boy was autistic, and heard when I told the sister that jaymes was as well. She listened to our little exchange about the merits of taking these kids out into public places and though she had no experience with autism, she "got it".

Some of the other tables continued laughing, mocking, making retard jokes... And what can you do? Those people choose to be ignorant and cruel. Any idiot could look at that child (er.. teen) and know that he wasn't being a jerk, wasn't messing around. Most of them did, given that they were referring to him as a "retard." I just don't understand that. I see kids like this, and I feel that family's exhaustion and stress. I can appreciate the courage that mother had to bring her son to the mall. Like I told her... Good for her. Everywhere we go with our kids, we spread awareness and we teach something. Our kids benefit, and the people (like the lady who I talked to afterward) who choose to can learn about it and understand even just a little.

I do not think Jaymes will ever be quite like this particular kiddo was. I hope he won't be. But either way, I hope I will always have the same courage that this mother had. Our kids deserve to come out of the house, out of the special ed classrooms, out of the therapy waiting rooms. They have a right to eat at the food court, play on the playgrounds, go to restaurants, and just be part of their community. Too many people feel shame and embarressment when they come out with their special needs kids. Society isn't particularly receptive to differences. But the more we step out, the more we demand that our kids be seen and be part of their community, the more tolerance we'll encounter.

Don't leave your kids at home just because people might look at you funny. Ignore it, it's worth it in the end.


Lorraine said...

This is a great message for everyone, autistic and non-autistic families, to give encouragement for getting out and about, and for being supportive and respectful in public places.

Jasmine said...

Very good post. Hope you don't mind if I link to the post in my blog.