- Posted March 30, 2009 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Acceptance issues with autistic children: Parents and the world
By Heather Moores
It is a frigid, snowy afternoon and my four-year-old son, Julian, and I are awaiting a visit with his pediatrician. His teacher had called that morning to express concerns that Julian may have a urinary tract infection. Julian is very excited about seeing his doctor but I suspect his real reason for excitement is the ensuing Happy Meal with chocolate milk on the way home.
Doctors make Julian very nervous. Sometimes bribery can be a beautiful thing. Julian starts goose-stepping all over the waiting room the minute we walk in. He repeatedly counts every coat hook on the wall. Then he starts counting the other people in the room. He starts roaring like lion and almost jumping into other people. He notices a group of chairs along one wall. They are all attached and he happily shouts, "Look! A Tunnel!" He throws himself on the floor and crawls like a baby over to the first chair.
Under the chair he goes and he shimmies forth on his belly under the six remaining chairs. He goes back and forth and back and forth. He starts babbling about the number of people in the room and the number of coat hooks on the wall and, now, the number of chairs his tunnel has. He is pure energy and delight in fluid motion.
I am smiling as I watch him. His happiness over simple things fill me with joy. Through his eyes I have learned to look at everything around me in a new way. Ways that I never thought possible. With a child like Julian, there is no such thing as boredom. He turns every moment of every day into a major event. While sometimes exhausting, there is always a new adventure to embark upon.
As I look around the room at the other people, my smile fades. A look of fierce indignation replaces it as I see the looks they are giving my son. Some of the mothers are looking at him as if he is an amoeba crawling towards them; others are looking at me as if I am the worst parent alive for having such a strange, hyperactive kid. Some of the smaller children look curious but their parents are actively trying to keep them away from Julian. It is like Julian has become a sideshow freak.
Julian continues playing but he notices the stares. He looks to me for reassurance and I smile and nod to let him know that he is just fine. He gives me a beautiful smile. I hear whispers around me. I cannot make out the words but I already know what they are. "What is with that kid?" "Is he retarded?" "Why is his mother just sitting there smiling like an idiot?" The list goes on.
The inevitable has finally arrived. I cannot bear the reactions of these people any longer. With a false note of cheerfulness that I am not even close to feeling, I say loudly, "This is Julian. He has Autism. He is not going to hurt anyone, he is just having fun. Please stop staring at him." Then I wait for I know what will happen next. The looks of shocked indignation are replaced by looks of sympathy and "understanding". Suddenly people are curious about Julian and why he behaves the way he does. Also, I will be viewed as the greatest mother ever for having a child like Julian and being able to cope with him. Everyone feels so sorry for us. People are still staring at Julian but they now have pity on their faces. I want to grab my baby and run.
This happens every single time we go anywhere. I know that we will never be free of these situations but still, I have grown weary of them. They both anger and sadden me. The everyday ignorance of those around us never seems to cease. It wouldn't be so bad if people wouldn't treat my child the way they do. He is treated like he is a disease instead of a very special human being. He is such a joyful little boy and he is very interested in other people. I am very thankful for this because many children with Autism are totally unaware of other people.
I am worried that Julian will become damaged by his treatment from other people. He is very sensitive and his feelings are easily hurt. I yearn for a day when the nasty looks and the explainations will cease. Maybe there isn't enough understanding of Autism for this to happen. People are curious by nature and eager to understand things. I find myself giving out definitions of Autism like candy. It's not for my benefit, it's for Julian's. I want him to be accepted just the way he is; a beautiful, highly energetic, imaginative boy that never fails to bring joy to me.