Labelling & Perceptions
A parent of a child who had a mild hearing problem or sensitivity to light or difficulty sitting still, would tell the teacher because it is something about their child that the teacher needs to know so that adjustments can be made to ensure the child is happy, able to take on learning and cope in the classroom. Given that autism is not visually recognisable and everyone who is on the autism spectrum is different it becomes even more important to tell people.
Some children on the spectrum can talk but are non-verbal, huh? Some are very early talkers with almost no delays in learning. Some love to be hugged others cannot stand to be touched or bumped at all. Some love stickers others hate them. Some can cope with environmental noises others cannot. Some are sensory seekers and others are sensory avoiders. Some will only wear long sleeves every day of the year and some will only wear t-shirts every day of the year. But, they are all on the spectrum, it’s vast and very difficult to determine.
As usual, I couldn’t come up with any kind of response at the time and trust me there have been many other comments made that I shall never forget but, actually it’s the judgmental looks with no words that hurt me the most. At least I can stew over what people have said and we can throw it around our own family table with friends and come up with some awesome comebacks with each added glass of wine. But those stares and looks that take seconds to deliver and a lifetime to forget are so hurtful, and all it would take is a split second to stop, think, and be kind.
Drum roll...This is what has inspired me to launch Autism Threads and the dream of a stylish and subtle clothing brand that raises awareness and can provide visual cues to help set expectations and correct people’s perceptions.
I wish I could invite all the people who have given us those looks over years into my home (one at a time obviously haha) to come and experience what it’s like to interact with Henry when he is relaxed and happy at home. All too often it’s only the bad moments that are witnessed when Henry is in public and already having to deal with so much just to get from one end of a shop to another. And I have to agree that if I didn’t know I too would no doubt be casting a judgemental look. People aren’t exactly going to come up and ask if a person is autistic (imagine if they weren’t?!?!?) and the reality is that very few people can tell the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum.
Their most anxious and sometimes most excited behaviours simply do come across as really loud (drowning out the other sounds they cannot cope with); hyper (jumping, rocking, repetitive echolalia); rude (no eye contact, not saying hello); naughty (tantrum vs genuine and deeply intense and scary meltdown) or, weird (loud noises, hand flapping or other types of stimming). We need to start conversations by sharing our stories amongst our families and friends and so the word will spread and others will also learn to understand and accept.
It needs to go one step further in my humble opinion ie on to actual engagement and interaction. It’s all well and good to know people accept autism and accept your child’s behaviours etc but sadly that tends to be where it stops. Thereafter their reaction is naturally one of apprehension and/or disengagement because they are unsure of themselves or assume that the autistic person/child wants to be left alone. My only advice on this is to have the courage to ask them or their parent, they will be thrilled and they will help you, they are not anti-social. On that note please don’t start an attempt to interact by apologising and saying something like I’m sorry, all I know about autism is the Rain Man! Not cool ok.
I think I’ll put a mini guide up on social media pages...