I nearly went to jail the other day. Handcuffs trapping wrists together behind my back, stuffed in the squad car’s uncomfortable back seat, a half-drunk Judge’s gavel echoing between the courtroom walls. Law and Order clank of cell bars shutting me in for an extended visit.
It almost would’ve been worth it too.
Autistic kids have a difficult time standing still. Sometimes they flap their arms, jump up and down, twirl in circles or shout distractingly loud. They can’t control it. They aren’t trying to be disruptive. They are simply dealing with the outside world in different ways than you or I might need to in order to feel comfortable.
While I understand that these behaviors sometimes make others feel uncomfortable, is it really necessary to be rude? Standing in line with my kids waiting for our turn at the register, the older minion paced back and forth along the candy isle, looking at product logos like he loves to do. He moved in close to a magazine cover staring at the different fonts and bright colors with a huge smile on his face.
We go to this particular drug store at least once a week, so the employees all know him and many of the customers do as well. In the line in front of me, the woman glared back and forth between the minion and me with an expression of sheer horror on her face. Skin stretched taught on her cheeks, eyes bloodshot wide and jaw agape. Apparently a child enjoying himself was akin to the latest Rob Zombie bloodbath. Fortunately for her (and me) she said nothing.
I consider myself a pacifist. I don’t believe in violence of any kind. That being said… don’t mess with my kids. Just don’t.
I bit my lower lip and forced a smile the next time she turned her distorted features my way. I even waved all friendly like. Images in my mind did color themselves a bit red though. I imagined the beautiful sound of knuckles cracking against bone and pictured the unconscious body on the floor next to the latest weekly sales items. (Hence the imagery of me being arrested written above.)
Yes, it’s true. Some people allow their children to behave badly in public places. We’ve all seen it and wanted to smack some sense in to them. Temper tantrums, top of lung howling, body thrown on the floor kicking red faced crocodile tears. There is a difference. All it takes is a few moments to look closely, pull out of your individual experience and offer some generosity of spirit.
I saw a report on the news about a man on an airplane. A little girl sat next to him and wanted to play with him. He didn’t know her. He didn’t know she was autistic. He put away his work, closed his laptop and spent the entire flight reading with her and making sure she had fun. If that isn’t a generous spirit, I don’t know what is.
Before the term “special needs” entered into my reality, seeing people with issues used to make me uncomfortable too. I admit it. It wasn’t part of my life experience. How could I be expected to feel comfortable around it? I get that. But, I never felt it acceptable to be rude or stare or judge. Here is my advice if you ever come across a family with special needs kids or an individual with special needs, treat them like anybody else. It’s not difficult. Honestly, it feels pretty good too.