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Why PEOPLE WHO STARE at my autistic child like he's a purple alien from Planet Zarg? Didn't your parents teach you any manners? We know he is odd, and we know he can be noisy - but if he were in a wheelchair you'd give him no more than a quick glance, would you?
Don't be afraid - if you want to know about him, just ask!
My son Eben has what most doctors would call 'moderate to severe' autism and learning difficulties to match; I would liken his general demeanour to a seven year old body with a very happy hyperactive four year old inside it! Contrary to the oft-perceived stereotype he is outgoing, affectionate, chatty and loves meeting new people and going to new places. He lost his hard won verbal skills at the age of four and now can't form words - but that doesn't stop him trying! And he understands you perfectly if you keep things simple. He is possibly the happiest little boy I have ever met and has a dimpled smile that makes everyone say "aaah". So why, when we go out, do people insist on staring?
Admittedly, diving into a fountain fully clothed (because you think the mosaic tiles on the bottom make it look like a swimming pool) may attract a little attention. As might stripping off in public, or obsessively sitting on drain covers, or licking railings. Even I find these odd, but such behaviour certainly brightens the day (assuming there is a change of clothing to hand and the car is parked nearby).
The question I am asked most often is, does he have a special talent? Well, no unless you count eating a full plate of pasta in under 30 seconds, or utter fearlessness of anything except small fluffy animals. When motivated (i.e. hes spotted someone with ice cream) he can sprint with astounding speed, but we are yet to harness this for any purpose, (or indeed in a straight line). Likewise, he is adept at chewing to pieces anything softer than reinforced concrete but this is only likely to prove useful in the event he needs to escape from a bed that has been tucked too tight.
He loves cuddles and touching faces, and giggles when he knows he is being cheeky (which is surprisingly often). His best habit is making us laugh, and his worst eating sand. Beneath the autism he is a delightful, fascinating little boy who is adored by everyone who knows him.
Parents of special needs children are delighted when someone asks about their child, because it is a chance to tell someone more than books ever can. This is especially true of parents of autistic children. We have all spent days dissolved in tears, but have spent many more being thankful our child is who and what they are and not what we once wished they could be. The media quite rightly talks about the hardships of being a parent or carer, but it forgets about the pleasures. Its a clich to say being with a special child is difficult but incredibly rewarding - but its true! We dont want you to think, Oh that poor woman, how does she cope? Thank goodness thats not me. We want you to think, Is her son autistic? I wonder what his name is.
If you are curious enough to stare you are curious enough to ask; come and say hello! I know that approaching a special child can be scary youre not sure what to say or whether to talk directly to the child or to their carer. So Ill help you.
Always speak to the child first. Their understanding is almost certainly better than their reciprocal communication. If the child cant (or wont) respond the carer will do so for them youre spared any embarrassment and may well come away having learned something.
What would be embarrassing is to be caught staring!
By: Attila the Mum