I wanted to share this tale, but it’s sensitive, so I have to be careful. I don’t want to embarrass or shame anyone.
With any and every volatile interaction, there’s a chance to allow emotion to overrun and blur reflection. I like to take time to decompress and see if there’s anything I can learn. A learning opportunity is a place to grow from.
Jake has autism. Everyone knows this, right? We’re autism advocates and educators in my family. Everyone knows this, too, right?
I write this blog. Beth’s served on the board of directors for the Autism Society of Maine. We’re both Autism Information Specialists. We raise money for walks and speak to groups both large and small.
Here’s the story:
My younger kids were at a large social gathering. A gathering with friends, fun, and music. Kids were being kids. Laughing and playing, joking and teasing. One such kid walked by being goofy. Goofy on purpose. Class clown goofy. Innocent goofy.
That’s when it happened.
Some child we’ll call Child, said to one of my kids, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Hey! Look at that kid. What is he, autistic like that kid at the high school?”
It was a statement meant to show how cool Child was by poking fun at the autistic kid at the high school. It was meant to be hurtful. It was one of those moments where Child was trying to make himself bigger by making someone else smaller.
I tell my kids about these people. You know them. The ones who think their candle burns brighter if they blow yours out.
My kid did well. Kid said, “The autistic kid at the high school is my brother.” Deadpan. Child didn’t realize this. Somehow. Even in our small town.
I’m not so naive to think that people don’t talk about my son. He sticks out. He’s in your face. He’s atypical.
Child was appropriately abashed, and avoided my kid for the remainder of the event. Being able to recognize your error, and then walking up to someone and owning that error, then respectfully asking forgiveness is developmentally beyond many tweens. Heck, it’s beyond many adults I know.
Rumor has it a peer onlooker came to Kid’s support by saying, (and again I paraphrase) “Child, you can’t make fun of a kid for having autism. It’s not his fault. He was born that way. It’s like teasing a kid with cancer. He didn’t ask for it.”
Kid is conflicted. Can/should Child still be considered a friend? This behavior was out of character, but that’s expected at this age. It still stung. It’s one thing to be the child who says things like this, but to NOT KNOW who you’re speaking to? Ugh.
- How could Child say this?
- Why would Child say this?
- How could Child not know Jake is my brother?
- Would it have mattered if Child had and just said things like this behind my back?
We preach forgiveness. This was a chance for Child to learn about autism; learn about how words can hurt; learn about stereotypes.
If behavior is changed, yay! If not, and Child is not at least somewhat repentant, then maybe Child isn’t the friend we thought they were to begin with.