Thursday, January 20, 2011

"He's Shy..." Um, yeah - that's it.

"He doesn't look like he has autism." 

If I got a nickel for every time I heard that, I wouldn't need to worry about paying an attorney to sue the Board of Education.  I'd have the money in the bank.  

Autism doesn't look like anything and unless The Boy is flapping wildly, it would be hard to tell that anything was there. He looks - for lack of a better word - "normal." And Autism is often mistaken for something else. 

Yesterday while on the bus to Sensory Gym an older woman started talking to The Boy.  Aside from the fact that she kept referring to him as a little girl, she kept asking him questions.  You know, "What's your name?"  "How old are you?"  The Boy looked everywhere else but her.  

"She's shy," she said patting him on the knee.  

"She's a Boy," I smiled.                          

We laughed.  And I let her believe that The Boy was shy. What was the point of explaining to her when I was stepping off in two stops.  
But I get that all the time.  The Boy has the kind of face that makes you smile. (I know, all moms say that about their kids.) And our interaction together, his laugh, his smile - makes him the kind of child, grandmothers want to engage.  Though he's not always willing to engage them.  Making him appear shy.  I know that's not that case.  But I let strangers believe it.

Should I use these moments to teach awareness?  Or just let the moment pass, protecting our privacy?  What do you do?    

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  1. I sure struggle with this myself. I've heard that stupid phrase SO MUCH and everytime I do, I think, "And exactly what is autism supposed to look like?" But because I don't want to come across as a "witch," I bite my tongue. I guess if I feel in the mood, I'll respond with, "Well, she's a kid, just like all the other kids, except she has autism." Then there are times I just say, "Yup."

  2. Let me begin by saying your son is adorable second some people can't help how ignorant they are. I would've corrected her and said he's a boy unless someone is really being mean spirited you don't owe anyone any explanations b/c it's none of their business due to yours and your chid's privacy. I would never say half of the things some people come up with. I'm a firm believer of if a person doesn't have anything constructive they need to keep their mouth shut.

  3. I've found that many people have a stereotyped view of what kids with autism should be like, and just do not realize that so many do not fit the stereotype. And that is what makes autism a silent disability. Educating folks is good, and I think that we do through our blogs with posts like these, but it's tough to do in these types of everyday moments. I say you did well just to stay civil.

  4. I used to say my kids were shy, too. It was just easier in those limited transactions. Someone recently asked me if my kids were excited for Christmas. I should have just said yes, and left it at that, but for some reason I said, "No, they have severe autism and don't get excited about holidays, because they don't understand them at all." Um, yeah. THAT left an awkward space to fill, so now I've gone back to the simple, one-word responses and don't try to correct assumptions. I feel like I raise awareness in a lot of other ways, and when it's more on my terms, so every exchange with every stranger doesn't have to be a public service announcement. And honestly, from where you were starting with that lady, you were better off just letting that one go. ;-)

  5. Thank you all so much for your generous comments! Your words are truly appreciated :)

    So many people stereotype Autism - and it's difficult to advocate every single moment.

    I went through that over the holidays too - The Boy just doesn't get it. And it's hard to explain without hearing the "I'm so sorry's" - because that's not what I want. I'm sure that's not what anyone wants.


AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.