Mark Twain once said: “Children and fools always speak the truth…”
Young children are curious and observant little creatures, they generally don’t have filters and yes, they can be very mean. But they often don’t know when they’re being hurtful. So when one of my son’s classmates saw me approach him at school today, she shouted “What’s wrong with him? He’s not looking at you, you’re talking to him and he’s not looking!” Those words stung. I was hurt although A) the girl was 100% correct and B) she said it without any malice or cruel intent. She simply stated the truth.
The little girl doesn’t understand why Max wasn’t looking at me. The fact that he rarely looks at people in the eyes when they talk to him and vice versa. The fact that he needs to be reminded to look at others when they’re speaking to him. She doesn’t know about his autism and what deficits he has that prevent him from having a ‘normal’ social interaction with other kids. It’s not realistic of me to expect her, or any child, to understand any of this. So why did her words bother me?
Upon picking up my son from school recently, I was helping him with the zipper on his jacket. His classmate saw this and said “I can do up my own zipper” in a very miss-know-it-all kind of way. I felt as though I was being bullied. I know how silly it sounds and perhaps I’m oversensitive, but it hit a nerve. That night, I showed Max how to zip up his own jacket and we worked on it all week until he was able to do it on his own. I wasn’t going to allow some snotty little brat to criticize my son. Of course, she was only 3! She didn’t know any better. Why was I taking it so personally?
Children have asked me on various occasions “does he talk?” I usually say “yes, he talks, he’s just shy.” A little girl once said “he’s a baby” and my retort back was “no, he’s not a baby. Does he look like a baby?” Again, I felt as though I was being bullied. But why?
In the past, I have left playdates in tears because I see how different my son is compared to his neurotypical peers. It’s difficult to witness my child as the outcast, the child who would rather open and close a cupboard repeatedly than join other children at play. To have it constantly pointed out adds salt to the wound. (I’m being a tad dramatic I suppose)
So why do these situations affect me so deeply? Why do I let the negative thoughts linger when I should be focusing on all of the good? Will I ever come to terms with the fact that children might see my son as being different or the ‘weird’ kid?
At the end of the day, no child – or adult for that matter – should affect the way I feel about my son and his autism. I know he will do things at his own pace and comparing him to others will never benefit either of us.