Wednesday, October 30, 2013

He Is Them

My husband and I were lunching at a little cafe in our downtown. As we were waiting in line, we noticed that the group in front of us had kids a little older than Morgan. We instantly recognized those kids as belonging to our son's tribe of people- they were autistic.

They were out with their aides after coming from an anti drug rally and were from the school Morgan is zoned for next. He won't be going there, but that's beside the point. We struck up a conversation, as I always do when autism is present- I can't help it. The paras were responsible, it turned out for the "severely impacted and verbal to moderately autistic and verbal or wheelchair bound" kids. They asked if Morgan was verbal, which always baffles me- being verbose gives no indication of a so called functioning label. But I digress...

The aides were helping the kids learn life skills by ordering for themselves, paying for their food, and tipping the servers. They were displaying good behaviors, I thought, but yes, they were displaying "typical autistic" behaviors. Hence, Thomas and I recognizing members of our son's tribe. You could say that our A-dar was on high alert. We were very happy to see these children (fifth and sixth graders) out in the community with their lovely aides being taken care of and, most importantly, being treated with love, respect, and dignity as they demonstrated the life skills they were clearly learning.

We placed our order and sat down in the front. I could hear the lively group in the back, their paras redirecting them with table manners; everyone seemed to be having a nice time.

Some women sitting behind me were gossiping about that awful letter making the rounds about the lady who intends on "educating obese children." I let it drop that I'm an autism blogger and all of my friends and I were super hot about it as well. If someone were to give my large kid that note? Oh honey. We all nodded.

Lunch finished up, Thomas went to refill our cups... and then "it" happened.

Our server came by to bus our table and for whatever reason, thought it was okay to say to me, "Shew! Just watching them kids made me tired! Can you imagine dealing with something like that e'ryday?!"

I looked at her levelly as I stood up and answered, "Yes. Yes I can. My son is one of those kids. I live with that wonderful life every day. He is them. And I can't ever  imagine saying something like that to someone like me or anyone else..."

She scooted off, shocked into silence. I turned to pick up my purse and saw the group of ladies at the table behind me and realized they'd heard every word. They were all grinning at me. I'm supposing I said the right thing, for once.

My point in telling you this is that those people are just that- people. They were out in the community, at a cafe whose business depends on everyone patronizing it, including autistic people and their paras or parents. How dare someone remark to a perfect stranger something like that? And in that tone, that language? As if that is not an okay way of being?

And guess what? Autism is everywhere. So, be prepared for it. Don't ever assume it's okay to crack a joke or make a comment to a random stranger about a group of autistic kids. You never know if the stranger you're laughing to is the proud mom of an autistic kid who will willingly write a letter to editor of your city's paper about your cafe.

This life isn't easy by any means. But God, it's worth it- he is worth it. My son, and every single person who shares his diagnosis or some other "different ability" deserves the respect to not be fodder for gossip or a joke.

So, thank you, server lady, for once again giving me the drive to write about social injustice. Here I was, getting complacent about acceptance and thinking that it wasn't a problem in our little community. I guess I was mistaken.


  1. Shame on that Server she should be Fired and made an example out of. I am on the Autism Spectrum, I have Aspergers Syndrome, and I would have made her look like an Ass in front of the whole place, I have no tolerance for that kind of behaviour.

  2. To the commenter: You have to remember that two wrongs don't make a right, and by making an ass out of her, you are only making yourself and your community look bad.

    To the writer: Yes. So much yes.

  3. Getting people fired in this economy where everyone is trying to eke out a living is not the answer. It will not make her an example, it would only make people angry and polarize people even more. I think it was handled perfectly. Standing up to her, explaining it to her, embarrassing her was part of a teaching moment, and she will probably never make that mistake again, which is what we're all looking for, isn't it? And publicity in the paper for the restaurant should mean the entire staff gets a talking to about acceptance and respect.

  4. The reason I chose to not name the cafe is because (1), it's a place we patronize regularly and (2), I am trying to take into consideration that this was an older woman from a completely different generation. Yes, her comment to me was completely out of line, no matter that I am the mother of an autistic boy. Yes, she was in the wrong. However, I did give pause to the fact that she's old, likely on a fixed income, and that in this small town and horrible economy, she wouldn't likely be able to find a job again. I feel that my words to her were humbling enough. Should I choose to write a letter to the editor (which will likely be this blog post in its entirety), I think that it would - hopefully- serve as a wake up call that, as I said- families like us are EVERYWHERE. Autistics are EVERYWHERE. Just because I didn't get her fired does not mean that my words mean any less.

  5. I think what the server said is just downright awful, but you handled it perfectly. It's so easy to rip into someone when you're angry but when you can stay clam and politely put them in their place, I think they can actually see that they did something wrong. Other wise, they get defensive and nothing was learned.

  6. Maybe she meant how hard iw would be. Having to wake up, daily, knowing your day was going to be challenging.
    Because it is challenging.
    My son aslo has autism, but everyday I see other people in worse situations - and im always glad I don't have to deal with "THAT".