We’ve all experienced it…and quite a few times actually…every time we are with or around “typical children”. It may be at the mall, or at a playground…and all of a sudden our child does something, whether it be hollering, flapping or spinning…we don’t notice right away, because we are accustomed to being around these little stims at home. It takes a couple of seconds, and by the time, we notice…we’ve also noticed something else…Yes…from other parents and other children…it’s the “sideways glance”. It’s penetrating, and brutal, and it is virtually overwhelming when the “sideways glance” is coupled with a few hushed whispers from one typical mom to the next. We can’t blame them…but we do! They think they are being discreet…but they are not! Some, may even give us a patronizing look of sympathy, and feel that it may make us feel better…But…it doesn’t!
So, what do we do? How do we feel? We all know how we SHOULD feel…the noble attitude of, “This is my child, and yes, he is autistic…this is just fine, and I love him and I accept him as he is in all environments…and I am not embarrassed or ashamed…so there…” and we hold our head high with dignity. This is our façade…this is our mask. Although there are a few of us that have been able to achieve the inner strength to muster up this same resolve and confidence in their hearts as well…most of us….well, deep inside us…our hearts are breaking!
Those sideways glances, whispers, and patronizing looks…they hurt, and yes…badly…like the stabs of a knife into our hearts. We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t let this bother me.” And “I don’t even care what other people think.” But…it does bother us, and it does embarrass us. We may ask ourselves, “Why does this bother me…Why don’t I just “get over” myself…
The answer is just as simple, and as natural as a heartbeat…We are HUMAN! And, as human beings, we care about what others think of us, and we long to be accepted…it is in our job description as people. People conform to social graces, and standards, and this makes us all feel comfortable, and secure. As a society of people, we have come a long way too…Just look at us…we have disabilities all around us and we don’t even flinch anymore, at someone in a wheelchair, or a blind or deaf person. But…when it comes to a “social disability” as in the autism spectrum….well that is a real jagged pill. Because of our set standards of behavior, these social disabilities make people uncomfortable, and they are at a loss as to how to react.
So, what is the answer…education, exposure…Yes, and yes, these are big parts of the puzzle that is “Acceptance” and “Awareness”.
This April, lets all promote Autism Awareness as never before, since April is the dedicated month of International Autism Awareness and therein afterwards, month after month, year after year, day after day. As there is more and more Autism Awareness…less and less become the occasions when we have to endure “The Sideways Glance”.