It still happens.
Whether it is my boy grabbing a beloved plastic snake at Michael’s and putting it right in a woman’s face to show her how pretty it is or him angrily displaying his distaste at an unpopular decision I have made, we have faced down the Vanilla People on many occasions. It happened when my spectrum kiddo was younger and it still happens today when we run across the rude and staring Vanilla People in the world. The ones who fail to understand autism, the ones who do not recognize autism, the ones whose empathy for their fellow human beings was not engaged when they happened upon us.
I could have gotten angry at them. Though I was raised a Southern girl with fabulous manners, I can do angry and I can do it up ugly when needed. In those choice moments, when facing down the unkind words and stares from the Vanilla People,I could have lashed out in protection of my boy and let the grizzly momma step in but, honestly, for me, patience is the better answer.
Crazy you say? Naw, it’s not. Read on, my friend. Their is method to my madness.
Patience is mostly not crazy. Anger is certainly easier but, if you think about it, the patience I am talking about is the same patience I want the world to have for my spectrum kiddo. The way I see it, how can I ask it of the Vanilla People if I don’t share it first myself? As the autism ambassador that I have appointed myself to be, I have made it my business to set the example because kindness, understanding, compassion and awareness…BEGIN WITH ME. I will also add that the most successful ambassadors in this world happen to not be the ones shooting angry words across the aisles. No…really.
That same level of patience I give to my child, I also have vowed to give to the Vanilla People.
As I catch them watching my child with a bewildered look on their face, I catch their glance right back and proactively remind them, “Autism can be kind of rough. This is what it looks like. It’s hard on him too. He understands it just about as much as you and I do but we keep struggling through it.” I also add as we are leaving, “Some days can be really hard.” The proactive words soften their faces and the bewildered face is replaced with that “aha moment” that says they misunderstood what was going on and now they understand and NOW they have seen autism in person and they are sorry they jumped to conclusions. NOW they understand that autism is a sweet faced child and a kind mom who are doing the best they can. Now they understand autism is neither scary or ugly. Autism then becomes a face they are familiar with and, consequently, autism is no longer an impersonal stranger on a news cast or movie screen. It is the first proactive step I can take to help the world really SEE autism… up close and personal. And, I’m pretty confident, the next time the Vanilla-People-Friend I have just made faces autism…they will not jump so quickly to judge because their hearts have been opened up to the very real and kind faces of autism.
That is how I spread awareness.
I cultivate the kind of understanding and compassion I want others to share with my kiddo by softly bridging the gap of both awareness and understanding. I figure if I am proactive and I spread the message with kind words, the Vanilla People will remember and associate autism with kindness and humanity and, as the days of my child’s life roll forward, the Vanilla People in my community will be open to my child. To me, that’s a whole lot better than leaving the community at large with the distaste and ugliness of anger in their face from a mother who simply mirrored the unkindness she saw and who lacked as much compassion as she was shown. If the saying is true that “You get what you give”, I want to make sure that what I am giving to the global and local community is that same understanding and compassion that I want to have come back to my spectrum kiddo…and…in spades…one Vanilla Person at a time.