Okay America, pop quiz time. You see a child of fifteen or sixteen in a store who is in the midst of a meltdown -- crying, screaming, may be trying to bite, that type of thing, and one or two people are either talking to him calmly and rubbing his back or leading him someplace a little less populated. What's you're first thought? Be honest with me here.
A. Whoa, bad trip! Wrong drugs!
B. Wow, what a brat! His parents should be ashamed! I'd.....
C. Ugh, what a r*****.
D. Should I ask if i can help in some way or should I just stay out of the way?
E. Why do they allow people like that in public? They should stay home or be institutionalized!
F. Poor dear, he's having a bad day. I can't do anything to help the situation but I can pray.
2. Same young man, same public place, only this time the boy is giggling a little too loudly, pacing back and forth, waving his hands a little wildly, talking gibberish, coming into your space and smiling, and/or hanging all over an adult who is smiling (sometimes tiredly) and talking to him, sometimes gesturing or telling him to be a little quieter. What's your reaction?
A, Whoa, he's trippin!
B. What a r*****
C. Didn't his parents teach him some manners? Doesn't he know how to act in public?
D. He's a happy one today!
E. He's disturbing everyone! He shouldn't be here!
Okay, pencils down, test is over. How'd you do? If you answered good trip/ bad trip, you may be partially correct. The child may indeed be on medication to help calm him, but sometimes he's just really happy (or really bored silly which produces the goofiness at times) or conversely, something has caused his anxiety to sky rocket. He can't use words to communicate that something hurts, or the lights are too bright, or there are just too many people here and it's too noisy so he melts down.
If you answered "brat" or "no manners", ennhhh! wrong! He isn't a brat and he does understand how to behave in public. He's still learning, however, and he has the innocence of a wee one. He expresses his emotions easily and yes, sometimes loudly. The presence of the adult in both scenarios show that yes his parents care, and yes they are teaching him how to behave in public. The options of not taking him into public places or institutionalizing him are outdated, uncaring, and presently unneeded. If he is having a really bad day or the place is a hospital or someplace else that outbursts of any sort could be dangerous or frowned upon, he is either taken outside or simply stays outside or elsewhere with a parent or a friend.
If you answered with happy, poor dear, or should I help or stay out of the way, thank you. You are one of the few out there with compassion. Yes, there are brats out there, caused by parents who simply do not care (very rare) or by parents who are doing the best they can but are either inconsistent in teaching and discipline or have no idea what form of discipline would work. Sometimes a child is well behaved but otherwise just having a really bad day or is tired (younger children mostly). And yes, there are , sadly, some cases where a young adult is misusing/abusing drugs of some sort and it shows publicly. There are all sorts of reasons out there for behavior. The trick is not to simply assume you know what the situation is.
If you answered with the "r" word, shame on you. This is the single most misused word in the English language. It's used quite casually, calling friends a r***** or its "cute" form, rere. Saying someone or something is r*****ed. It's neither cute nor is it accurate or acceptable. Yes, some people are mentally slow, or retarded in some area or another. I'm assuming that if you can read this you are intelligent enough to have a rather large and broad vocabulary. If you are a doctor or therapist and can use the word appropriately in discussing a patient, or you're choosing to converse about how certain chemicals in fabric slow the chance of catching fire, fine, use the word. Think twice about using it in a derogatory manner, then think again. When words are improperly, thoughtlessly, uncaringly, and casually tossed about, it speaks volumes of your character, your education, your upbringing, your morals, and people will judge you harshly whether it's true or not.
The child mentioned in the pop quiz? Mine. The answers? Those have come across the board over the years as he has gotten older. Some I've heard from public figures, not necessarily speaking of my child, but he could have been because he chose to give his thoughtless, uneducated opinion over the airwaves, perfect strangers who either make snide remarks to whomever may hear the mutters or do nothing to hide what is plainly written on their faces; to fellow Christians, to family members.
If you do not know what is going on or you don't know the facts, you have two choices: ask questions or keep your mouth firmly in the closed and locked position. If your name is not Howard Cosell or Walter Cronkite, no one needs to hear your commentary. My son, and others like him, are not celebrities whose lives seem to be constantly up for public scrutiny.
David Lander, also known as the lovable Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley, has multiple sclerosis. When he first knew about it, he didn't tell anyone. People would see him fall, or stumble, and they would assume he was drunk or on drugs. I'm sure he isn't the only one who suffers from MS to have others think such thoughts. I learned this about him before I knew my son had autism. The point? Don't just assume you know the facts. Ask questions first. Most of us do not think questions are rude. Staring, assuming, those are rude.
Not all people whom you encounter with autism will act like my son. If you were to have 100 fifteen year olds with autism in the same room, you'd likely see 100 different versions of autistic behaviors. Some will be verbal, some will be mute. One may tell you everything you ever wanted to know and then some about baseball or whatever subject they latch onto. One or two may shriek and flap their hands. Many wont give eye contact unless they know you and are comfortable in their surroundings. You may find one sitting alone doing his own thing, or watching others play. Some may be spinning objects, some may build amazing things out of legoes. Not many will be savants. Rainman is not typical. It's fabulous when a child or adult with autism has an extreme talent for music or art or math. Not all are like that. There will be some who are computer geniuses (some more well known than you'd guess) and some will work with animals, lecture about animals and autism and would be so fascinating to meet (Temple Grandin). All are worth getting to know.
When you see a situation, think first. Comment later if at all. Ask questions. Pray. Encourage. Get to know someone.