Rules are all around us. Some are self-imposed (Don’t pick your nose in public.) and others are heavily mandated, (Don’t drive over 55.) but we each make the decision as to how closely we are going to follow any particular set of rules.
There really aren’t any set in stone rules about autism and how to live with it, but there is a widely respected unspoken rule and that is simply to talk. Talk about autism. Sounds pretty easy, right? For the most part it is, but there are times when it isn’t – times like when your spectrum son is the butt of the joke, again; or when he’s having a hard time and other adults are beginning to stare; or when it’s just been a really long, loud, tiring autism day.
Sometimes, talking is absolutely necessary for the safety of the spectrum child; but sometimes, opportunities present themselves for a good conversation which will simply result in better understanding, and that will lead to greater acceptance. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want for our kids – for ourselves – simply to be accepted by our peers for who we are?
A few weeks ago, we had an unseasonably warm spell right smack in the middle of February. We’re talking t-shirts, no jackets, and for the bravest of brave, even shorts. My little people and I took advantage of this early spring and played on the playground after school every chance we got. One day, we were joined by other families enjoying the warm reprieve from winter.
Our little bit was running about playing tag with the other kids while Ben was just running around burning off some pent up energy from the day. I ran with him a bit, playing chase, laughing and giggling all the way. One of the other kids, who I’ll refer to as Z, invited Ben to play tag with them and my anxiety level skyrocketed, knowing that Ben doesn’t like to be touched, yet thankful for the invitation. He answered, “YES!” and again, I needed a deep breath to prepare for the spiral that would surely come with the first “Tag – You’re It!”
I was wrong. Z was so gentle with tagging Ben, it didn’t bother him a bit. Z even took the time to stop and show Ben how the game works, explaining that he needed to chase the other kids, touch one of them, say, “Tag – You’re It!” and then run away. The boys laughed and ran off playing together, and I began to breathe again – relieved, overjoyed by the kindness of Z, and disappointed in my own apprehension.
I watched the kids play for a few minutes until Ben was done. He came over to me and we decided to head to the swings. Much to my surprise, Z came as well. We chit-chatted a bit and out of the blue, Z asked, “How did Ben get autism anyway?”
And there it was, the start of an amazing conversation between two people who care about my son. Z wasn’t being nosy or asking dumb questions, as it seems people fear will be the assumption when they ask about autism. He was genuinely interested in learning more about someone to whom he wants to be a friend and wants to get to know better.
That conversation reinforced everything I’d ever read about this unwritten Rule #1 of Autism: Talk about Autism. The more we talk, the more people understand. It is only with understanding that acceptance can be found and true friendships can be formed.