We get these smiles often when we're on our local hike-n-bike trail. People see us coming, see certain gestures or a way of walking or hanging on me for support or even catch the odd (and I mean, odd) phrase of the moment. And they smile, kindly. Sometimes, even our eyes meet, understanding flashing between us.
But some people do not smile. On that same hike-n-bike trail, we once had one of our most memorable incidents related to judgmental people and autism. Along the trail, there are water stations that offer cone-shaped cups for water. We always stop because, well, it's hot here most of the time, and cool water is a godsend. Once, we were lingering there after doing our loop, drinking our fill with our two youngest in the stroller and TH on foot. TH satisfied his thirst and then...likely either out of utter spaciness or because the ground around him was already littered with cups--he dropped the cup on the ground.
As I was trying to get his attention to pick up the cup--he was completely checked out--a woman next to him turned to her partner and said, loudly, "Look! He just dropped that cup on the ground. Just dropped it there!" And even as I tried to advise her that I, his parent, was standing right there and dealing with the situation, she persisted, addressing my son, "You need to pick that cup up!" and turning back to her partner to say, loudly again, "He's just standing there! He's not even picking it up!" At which point I leaned over to within two inches of her face and hissed, "He's autistic. I'm his mother, and I'm handling it." I've never seen anyone disappear as quickly as she and her partner did following that pronouncement. And TH? The entire time, he was utterly unaware of what was going on. I got his attention, finally, and had him pick up his cup.
So, we have The Woman at the Water Station. Her kind is few and far between in that willingness to be obnoxious and vocal in these negative judgments about our son. But her spoken words and clear offense are likely simply a more honest manifestation of what others--the ones who emphatically do not smile--are thinking. What that woman did that day hurt, it angered. I wanted to chase her down on the trail, confront her, ask her who in the hell did she think she was, hand her a pamphlet on autism, invite her to live our lives for awhile. The reverberations of that encounter went on for days. Even though two years have passed since that incident, I think about it every single time we walk by that water station. Lately, that's almost daily.
These cuts leave scars, and our scars accumulate with each passing year. Parents in our community have slandered our son at school and other places. They've mocked him to other parents, even to their own children. Even parents who know he's autistic have done this, without compassion. Their children, with knowledge in hand, have done the same. These cuts leave scars.
So, Smockity's words about a Child Like Our Own? They cut. Deep. They lay bare the anxiety under even the most bravura exhibition of I Don't Worry About What Others Think. They open wide the tightly closed door on all the worry, the concern, the awareness of other people's awareness of our children's differences. And they make clear that as much as we love and understand our children, as much as we believe in and live their right to be a part of their world, there are others out there who, prima facie, detest them, who judge us, who think of them only as brats or oddities or troublemakers or wanton litterbugs.
They are, like Smockity, those who do not deign to smile. They may continue on, untroubled by the pain they've inflicted. They may even post a link to Autism Speaks in a half-hearted effort to seem like they care. But the scars they leave? I wonder if it's worth it to them. It seems so much easier simply to give a kind smile.