Yesterday I spent the whole day with fellow bloggers visiting Winchester - there was a lot of walking involved. I know my blogger pal fairly well and have met some of her children. I didn't, however, how that one of her boys is autistic. I have met him - albeit briefly - and it wasn't something that was obvious to me or that would have been an issue even if it was. So when she told me he's been excluded from a friend's party and that other children don't come to his birthday parties I was so angry. I just don't understand why other people's discomfort is paramount in treating a child this way. Ok so he might not eat the same food as the others so he will bring his own. He might prefer not to take part in all the activities, but that's ok isn't it ? Why choose not to invite him rather than try to meet his needs so that he can participate ?
We have friends whose son has sensory issues and they are currently looking at whether or not he is on the autistic spectrum. We have known them and him for many years. While Brown Bear would dearly love to invite this boy to his birthday party we have spoken to his parents and they have told us he wouldn't enjoy it and it would be a struggle so we arrange to have smaller one to one play dates instead. My boy and theirs play side by side and if he needs space he goes and Brown Bear leaves him to it. We respect their advice on how to best be around their son and we talk to our sons about what we have planned so they know what to expect. I don't consider this to be difficult to do, but clearly other people struggle with it.
Then today when I went swimming at lunchtime one of the women who I see there all the time was in a grumpy mood. I asked if she was ok and she said, "No, I'm not actually." and proceeded to explain why. It was a petty minor thing so I sympathised and then got on with my swim. An hour later in the changing room she was still in a mood about it and was carrying on about how this young man in the pool had really upset her by jumping in and it had upset her so much. I nodded and said, "I'm sure he didn't mean to upset you." She was determined to be upset about this and carried on. Then she made a comment about him along the lines of, "Well he has autism doesn't he ?" That did it. I was not taking that and said, "What does that have to do with it ?" She went on to say he should not be working there if he had, 'health issues," and I told her that was inappropriate and not to continue down that line. I know this young man and his parents, I teach his mum yoga. When she told me her son with autism worked at the pool I had no idea who she meant for ages. I wasn't looking specifically for him, but I can honestly say he doesn't have any obvious mannerisms or behaviours that would mark him as different at all. It surprised me that this woman would mention it at all as it was irrelevant to her complaint.
When I spoke to his mum later she told me he had apologised to the woman - even though he had done nothing wrong at all - and she still made a big deal about it. I am beyond annoyed at the woman for thinking she had a right to suggest he shouldn't work and that he had behaved incorrectly because of his autism. I know that he is fully qualified to do his job and that he has all the support he needs to ensure he can manage that job and from seeing him at work most days I also know he has a great rapport with people. Her having a bad day is no excuse for this sort of scapegoating. However, the use of mental health to justify downright ignorance is rife. I often hear people use terms such as, "a bit OCD," when what they mean is fussy. Or they will refer to someone as, "on the spectrum" when what they mean is they are socially awkward or just not their cup of tea.
Being considerate and thoughtful is one of the qualities I really want to instil in my children. That means to all people, not just those who look or act like them. If I meet someone who makes me feel uncomfortable do I just choose not to have anything to do with them to make it easier for me ? Well if I feel threatened by them in any way I might do that, but my preferred mode is to see what we have in common. I was leaving Waitrose with a big cup of tea the other evening and I saw a woman sitting on the ground with a thin blanket, but no jacket or jumper on. I thought about it for a few seconds then went over and said, "do you want a cup of tea ?" She smiled and thanked me. I apologised that I hadn't got any sugar and she said it didn't matter and wished me a lovely evening. I don't know her. I don't know anything about her. In that moment she looked like she needed a hot drink more than I did.
Isn't being kind the right choice every time ?