Unruly children no longer bother me. Why? I don’t have all the facts. I remember too well the stares and caustic comments from uninformed onlookers who had no idea that what they were criticizing was not a bad little boy, but a boy with autism who could not quite understand his place in the world. “…Can’t you control him?” “Well, no, not always, for you see he has autism.” Blank stares from those who had never heard the word and who wouldn’t have softened their indignation had they understood.
A Visit to McDonalds
A big burly construction worker joined his wife and together they rejected my words. “You’re just making excuses for him. Get him out of here. He’s upsetting our kids.”
“No buts, get him out and take him home.”
“He loves it here.”
“The playscape is for regular kids.”
“He is a regular kid.”
“No, he’s not.”
“Well, he wants to be a regular kid.”
Michael and His Wheelchair
Not long after the wheelchair incident, I ran into Michael and his mother at the supermarket. My boy with autism went immediately to stand by his friend. Neither said much, but it was clear they were delighted to be in each other’s company. I visited with Michael’s mom for a bit and she introduced me to her second child, a toddler showing unmistakable signs of autism—signs I knew only too well. When it came time for her to pay, she did so with a food stamp card. My heart sank—not because I have anything against food stamps. Many need them and in fact couldn’t survive without them. But I was overwhelmed by an inescapable truth. Michael’s mom not only had two special-needs children, but she was essentially broke. And yet as we parted, her smile was bright and her jaw was set in determination—determination to live her life for her children—no matter what their imperfections.