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Taking Your Autistic Child Out To Meet The Public

Recently a twitter user @ChrisPbacon286 was in line for a ride at an amusement park when his child proceeded to have a meltdown. He mentioned how some other guy said (loud enough to be heard) “that brat needs his ass whooped”.

Had it of been me there, I’d have replied “Yes, because beating on a child with a disability would make you so much better.” but it wasn’t me and as was discussed, it likely wouldn’t have changed the rude guy’s opinion much. Sadly, idiots are idiots, period.

However, it did remind me of a similar situation that happened to my wife. I couldn’t be there with her but her sister was and they ran into an idiot as well.

I asked her to write it up for me to share with you. She’s a tad embarrassed since she’s not a writer but she’s happy to share, since it’s an important story.

A few months ago my sister and I decided to take the kids out to dinner. She has a daughter (11 years old at the time) and I had my two boys (Cameron who was 4 years old at the time and Tyler who was 2 years old). We went to a local family restaurant that serves a wonderful buffet and offers gluten free pasta for Cameron! It’s one of our favourite places to eat. When we arrived they told us they removed the “children’s” area (a place with booths near a toy area for the kids to play and make noise away from the other diners). So we were seated at a large booth in the main dining area. At the time there was nobody seated behind us.

My niece decided to leave the booth and Cameron wanted to go with her but since I was in his way, he needed to find another way out. So he climbed the back of the booth to try to get out of the booth behind us. I quickly took him out and reprimanded him, told him how inappropriate that was and sat him back into the booth. At the same time the waitress was about to seat someone at the booth Cameron was trying to climb into. I apologized to the couple about to sit down and said “I’m sorry about that.” The man turned to me and said “It wouldn’t happen if you disciplined your kids”.

Now I just need to say that I am a VERY non-confrontational person. I never stick up for myself unless it’s to someone I know very well. I don’t know if it’s mommy instinct or mommy guts or what it was but I stood tall and told this man that my children are VERY well behaved and disciplined and that he should have patience especially when dealing with a child with a disability. He started cussing and got angry and told me to shut the F*&# up.

That is when I sat down and left him alone. Not to back down but because I don’t want to subject my children to any negative behaviours like that. I want to teach them that it’s ok to walk away and not fuel a fire that is already out of control.

My sister had other ideas. She is my polar opposite. She stood up and talked him up and down and they were both causing a scene. This guy’s girlfriend was telling him to calm down and it was clear that this was a usual thing for him and he was just looking for a fight. So finally I talked my sister into sitting down and we finished our meals. The rude guy and his girlfriend left the restaurant without paying their bill.

I was frightened for us, afraid of how much my son could understand and feel, embarrassed for causing a scene and just upset at the whole situation. We paid our bill and apologized to the owner (who we have come to know from our many visits to the restaurant) on our way out.

A man from another table came over to us and said he saw it all and was sorry we had to deal with that. He thanked me for handling it so well and was really pleasant towards the kids. It was nice to have someone say that it was ok and not our fault, but it didn’t make it better. It had happened.

As a parent I don’t even know what the right thing is to do in a situation like that. It could have been ANY kid that was getting restless waiting for his food in a booth. But it happened to me and my autistic boy. But I’m proud of Cameron. He didn’t understand the boundaries of the booth, but once I pointed it out and explained it to him, he never attempted it again. He sat nicely and waited. He learned and listened. I can’t say that about the grown man who attacked us acting out like a toddler in a tantrum.

It took us a long time to decide to eat out again and since we’re extremely limited as to where we can eat out with Cameron (in our town there’s only this one restaurant that offers gluten free options) it made the choice even harder. But we did go back. And when we got there we were greeted by the owner. So many thoughts went through my head when we saw him walking towards us. Fear and embarrassment were the big feelings that I felt. Those few seconds it took for him to reach us seemed like forever. I’m sure my face was red too. But he stood there and said “We’ve opened a new children’s section at the back with safer and cleaner play equipment.” Oy!! So of course the first thing I thought was that they added it because of us. But he went on to say “Do not feel like you have to eat back there. You are welcome anywhere in my restaurant. We know what happened and it was not your fault and we love having you here”. We decided to eat in the children’s section anyway because let’s face it, the kids like it!

I think it’s important to remember that one incident shouldn’t stop you from trying again. That one comment or one person doesn’t make or break what you do every day with your children. A family restaurant is for families of all shapes and sizes and you are welcome there. So don’t let what other people think stop you. We almost let it stop us and we’re so glad we decided to get back out there. How can we prepare Cameron for the real world if we don’t let him experience it with us when we can keep him safe.

Just a quick update, I was just reminded of another incident that just happened, where a man literally punched another man in the neck because he felt so upset about being bothered while eating… at a restaurant, the man punched the father of an Autistic boy because that boy was “too loud”.

You can see an update on this story here: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/palm-beach/fl-restaurant-rage-autism-20100809,0,6084633.story

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Autism Community: What is Politically Correct? How do I Not Offend Someone?

This goes along the same lines as my last post, where I feel people need to stop being so childish… how do I talk about Autism without offending someone?

I’ll give you some examples… when I talk about Autism being a source of strength, something to not just overcome, but to master and use as a way to make yourself even better, I get attacked by those who have a loved one with Autism that is unable to speak, hurts themselves, will never move out on their own and never really have a life of their own.

On the other hand, if I try to speak up for those people and help people see just how ugly Autism can be, how stressful and depressing it can be on those who have it and those who sacrifice so much to care for those people… when I try to show people just how much of a disability it can truly be on a life long scale… I get attacked by those who have Autism and use it as a sword to attack us “neurotypical” people who don’t really know what we’re talking about.

Now obviously, I’m talking about small percentages of the over all population, most rational people wouldn’t attack me for doing either as I’m only trying to raise awareness and trying to do so for the greater good of all parties involved. However, there are still those out there who feel I’m making an effort to undo everything they’ve worked to accomplish.

Those with Autism that live on their own should feel proud and should hold their head up high… if they’re proud of having Autism (or Aspergers), then I will join them in telling the world.

And if those who cry more than they laugh because their children will never have a friend, never learn to talk, never be able to go out for a nice quiet meal and so on and so on…. I think they should be allowed to speak up too, and make sure the world hears them when they say “we need help, we need to stop this!”

But how do you do one without offending the other?

I’m not entirely sure there is a way, to be honest…. unless everyone can agree to stop being offending in the first place.

You can be proud of how you’ve learned to use Autism as a strength instead of a weakness, and still feel compassion and reach out to help those that see Autism as a life destroying disability in their own house.

And you can completely hate and feel defeated at what Autism has done to your family but still congratulate and be proud of those that have overcome and used their Autism to accomplish great things and have a good life.

We have enough fighting going on over which doctor is right and which one is wrong, we really don’t need to be fighting amongst ourselves.

The one thing all sides of the coin can agree on is that Autism is a spectrum. That doesn’t just mean several shades of good nor does it mean several shades of bad. It means going all the way from super human brilliant all the way to non-verbal self-inflicting violence.

Anyone being offended one way or another is either not as aware as they thought they were, or they’ve allowed their emotions to hide what is truly important… supporting each other.

I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but I’m not going to stop raising awareness for those too tired or depressed to do it themselves… and I’m also not going to stop being very proud of those with Autism that are doing well in life.

I will not stop if you’re offended that I think Autism is wonderful when it is doing such terrible things to a loved one and I will not stop if you’re offended that I think Autism is truly disgusting even though it’s making some people truly exceptional.

I will not stop.

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My Child Has No Concept of Time Thanks To Autism

I realize that sometimes it’s simply difficult for some children to get a grasp of, but in Cameron’s (my son) case, he doesn’t get it in the slightest. For example, he never knows what to call each meal that he has… he knows that it is breakfast, lunch, or supper… but he has no idea which it is.  I know that it’s entirely possible that we’re simply not teaching it to him in a way that’ll sink in but for comparison’s sake, my 2 year old has a better grasp of it already.

After talking to his therapist about it, she confirmed that many people with Autism (especially children) have no concept of time… it’s just something that is beyond their realm of understanding. For my son, everything is either happening, or it happened yesterday or it will just be “soon”. There is no specific date or time it happened, just “yesterday” or “soon.”

We’ve shown him calendars, we’ve shown him digital clocks… but nothing will get through to him. He’s been out of school for a month now and yet he still tells us about each of his classmate’s birthdays as if they happened yesterday. In fact, he says “yesterday, it was my friends birthday!”

In contrast though, funny enough, he is fascinated with months… he asks us “is it July now?” despite having no concept of what day or how many days has gone by. He asks purely for the sake of his curiosity, not because he understands that one month is different from another.

I’ve done a lot of reading up on Autism since my son’s diagnosis but I have to say that I’ve yet to see any articles or studies on an Autistic’s understanding on the concepts of time.  Is the therapist right? Will it be years before my son is able to get the basics on time? Will he ever?

What are your experiences with Autism and the concept of time?

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Sometimes I Think That Autistics Have It Right

When you boil down “Autism” to it’s core, by most definitions, it’s a lack of ability to communicate and socialize, usually derived by an inability to understand or “get” people. People with Autism have a hard time figuring out what it is that people mean by the things they say, they have a hard time knowing when a person wants to speak up or just listen or what their tone means.

For the most part, we as a society think they’re the ones with the problem, they can’t figure out what we do… but when I think about society and all the greed, two faced, double talking, innuendo, plays on words and so on and so forth, maybe they’re confused for a very good reason.

When I stop and think about it, when I really sit down and think about what people around me are saying, very little of it makes any real sense. If my brain wasn’t working over time to understand the context, the slang, the double meanings and the hidden messages… it would all seem very bizarre to me.

We, as a people, have messed up our languages in so many ways, over using sarcasm and irony to a fault, throwing in double meanings into everything to sound witty or smart….  actually, when I think about it, perhaps all men have a touch of Autism because let’s face it, not one of us understands the ‘hints’ and ‘signs’ from women.

It gets worse… I have approximately 20 teenagers in my facebook friends list including family, babysitters and so forth and not one of them can spell very well, not one of them understands grammar at all and not one of them cares. Those teenagers will grow up to be adults that will speak very differently from how I speak. Do you think what they speak will be easier or more difficult for an Autistic person to understand?

What I’m trying to say is, maybe it’s not those with Autism that have the problem. Maybe it’s us. We’ve perverted our language so much that half of the time, we don’t even understand what it is we’re trying to say anymore. If the internet is any indication, we’re losing our basic skills and replacing them with faster, more convenient, lack of skills! How many times have you seen someone use ‘loose’ instead of ‘lose’? Or ‘there’ instead of ‘their’? There’s a million examples and it’s only getting worse.

If you know someone with Autism and they have a hard time understanding you, maybe it’s not them… maybe it’s you. Slow down, think clearly about the message you’re conveying. Chances are, if you think about it, it’s not the message you actually are telling.

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How Quick We Are to Judge

I think it’s safe to say that if not all, then very close to all, parents of Autistic children have had to endure the comments, looks and judgments from others while our child throws him/herself into a fit of rage, screams at the top of their lungs and/or starts to get violent. It can happen at the most opportune times such as at restaurants, grocery stores, play centres and well, really, anywhere.

We have all had that moment where we look at the person judging us and debated within ourselves whether or not they warrant an explanation or if we’ll just leave it be and not give them the time of day. It’s hard enough to deal with all by itself without the mumblings, judgements… comments.

Something happened to me just yesterday, which actually had nothing to do with Autism but it really made it very very clear just how quick we are to judge.

My wife frequents a message board with other moms where one lady had just recently lost her child and that mother had asked that anyone who may be going to be a beach, to write the child’s name in the sand and take a picture. It just so happened that we were going to the beach so this was certainly something we could do for her.

We had a great day and prepared to leave but realized that we had forgotten to take the picture so I raced back to the water’s edge and wrote the boy’s name and proceeded to get pictures. But I wanted pictures that captured the moment so I took angles which would capture the water as well, even the other side of the lake, while still being able to read the name.

As I tried for a few angles, I could hear some teenagers in the water swimming and one of them said “uhmm.. why is that guy taking pictures of the water?” to which another replied “I can think of one reason… ‘fruit loop!'”

I dismissed it, no big deal really but after a few more pictures, their attention turned back to me again. “Seriously, what is wrong with that guy?”

Finally, one of them, bless him, said “Uhmm… why don’t you just ask him?”

Well now, there’s a novel thought! I mean, truly brilliant if I must say. If you don’t know why a person is doing something, why not ask?? Hm… nah, that doesn’t make any sense… and so they continue… “He’s just weird!”

So at this point, I spoke up, kind of changing the story a bit as it was none of their business about a poor lady’s loss “Actually, a little boy is very sick and all he asked for was to have someone write his name in the sand on a beach and show him in a picture, ok?”

As I turned and walked away, all I could hear “awww… that’s so sweet” and “oh my God, I feel so bad” and “that’s such a nice thing to do!”

I made sure to leave the name in the sand because it was right where they’d be coming out of the water. They’ll still judge the next person they deem ‘weird’ but maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember back to the day when they called some guy a fruit loop for doing something they didn’t immediately know the purpose of.

As for you… the next time you see a child acting out, being seemingly total out of control, remember that that is exactly what Autism does to a child… remember that, at this point, 1 in 110 children have Autism. How many children are in your city? And most of all, remember… maybe that parent is to blame because maybe the child is not Autistic, but how bad will you feel if it turns out that the parent is on the edge of a cliff emotionally already because of just how hard it is to raise an Autistic child and your judgment, your hateful glance, your comments that you should really keep to yourself…. what if that’s what pushes that parent over the edge?

Don’t roll your eyes, it can happen. It does happen. If you knew that you were going to be told after that that child lost their parent, and are now having to deal with their Autism on their own… would you still be so willing to make that judgment?

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