I took the kids to our local grocery store, eager to pick out pumpkins for carving. As I stood over the giant bin investigating the options, the kids wandered around the front of the store's entrance. Noah, my 10 year old, ASD son, stood in front of the sliding glass doors. He was enthralled by its mechanics, and the way it automatically opened and closed based on his movements.
While distracted, I heard a loud, authoritative voice yell out "EXCUSE ME, YOUNG MAN!" I looked behind me to see what was going on. "YOUNG MAN! I SAID EXCUSE ME!" I glanced to my right to see Noah still standing in front of the large store entrance. I can clearly see there is plenty of room on either side of him, as he is positioned perfectly in the middle. It finally registers in my mind that this woman is yelling at my son, repeating herself over and over, while others walk around her AND my child, entering the store just fine.
Noah does not turn around, he paid her no attention.
"YOUNG MAN, I AM TALKING TO YOU!"
I left my cart and marched up to the woman. I quickly remembered my other children were watching.
"Come on Noah." I said as I pulled him out of the way. I looked at the woman and made it clear that my son was not being rude, but that he had autism, that she had more than enough space to walk around, and that she was rude for making a spectacle of him. Her entitlement didn't end, as she waved me away stating "Yeah, yeah, ok, ok, ok, ok," while she, ironically, walked around me to enter the store.
Sadly, this isn't my first experience like this, and it more than likely won't be my last.
That night we carved our pumpkins. Noah's favorite part is sticking his hands into the gooey guts, squishing the seeds between his fingers, and rubbing the slimy strands between his hands. As I looked on I recalled my experience at the store and an article I read came to the forefront of my mind.
"Viral Post Suggests Blue Pumpkins for Autistic Trick-or-Treaters." I will be honest, when I first read the headline, I didn't care for the idea. And when I read the viral posts, I was certain we would not participate.
Here's why: Quite frankly, the thought of my child needing to carry or wear something to envoke kindness and understanding in his own community bothers me. I think it's a slippery slope and we should be mindful of the things we embrace.
When I think of the woman at the store I wonder- had my child been holding a blue pumpkin, or wearing a blue shirt, or had I PAINTED HIM BLUE, would her response to him be different? Safe to say, probably not. Because those who are not informed and educated on neurological differences and behaviors are more than likely not informed on the meaning behind a blue pumpkin.
But let's say some do have knowledge that a blue pumpkin equals autism. What happens if my child does not want to carry a blue pumpkin? What's if I can not find a blue pumpkin? What's if I simply do not like the idea? Will that change my community's response to him on October 31st? "Normal" families may think I'm reaching, but I'd venture to say they've never had their child bullied by a grown adult in the grocery store either.
I do not believe this is the right approach for more inclusive community events. I also do not believe this is the right approach to raise autism awareness and acceptance. Call me crazy, but I strive day in and day out for my child to live in a world where he does not have to change the literal wiring of his brain to make others more comfortable. One where others, upon engagement with him, do not automatically assume he is a bad kid, or rude (like the woman at the store seemed to think). One where their first thought is "If a child is not saying trick-or-treat it must mean he can't, or it is difficult for him" rather than "No candy unless you say these words!"
I digress... we have come a long way in teaching others about Autism Spectrum Disorder. And as we move forward, let's be mindful that our message continues to educate our communities, not deepen the gap between autistics and their peers.
Here's to a fun-filled night with your family. I am believing that we will create a world where the lady at the store is the exception to the rule and that blue pumpkins are not necessary for understanding. If you feel your community needs more autism education, here are a few suggestions:
- Share to your community website, online forum or Facebook page info on autism. Sharing how it relates to the holiday can better educate others. Not wearing a costume, unable to ask for candy, older than the typical tricker-or-treaters are all things others might experience.
- Consider passing out small cards to each house you visit that offers an explanation of ASD.
- Attend your local HOA meeting and educate neighbors.
- Post flyers at your local library and rec center offering autism facts and how it pertains to the holiday.