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Monday, April 21, 2008

Ignorance is bliss – the Good Samaritan

My children grow older and bigger in the cosmopolitan, open minded bliss of Silicon Valley in California. We are so used to our children that on the whole we bimble along our trajectory with only the occasional blip. Public blips usually cause me more concern that private blips. In public there is always a dilemma, should I explain and excuse, or be evasive? I feel uncomfortable announcing to perfect strangers that my boys are autistic, especially if the children are there to overhear. I wondered sometimes if this was because I was ashamed or embarrassed or both? Even now, as I think back, I believe the underlying truth was far different from such social trifles.

The difficulty was the need to protect the person that you told. When you tell someone something that they are not expecting to hear, you put them at an unnecessary disadvantage. It always sounds like an accusation, like they’re the type to drown kittens in a sack. Pardon! The implication is that the audience is incapable of understanding an unfamiliar 'invisible' disability. So often it seems unfair to dump this information on people without prior warning. My initial attempts were blunders, inept and clumsy. No wonder people reacted so unpredictably, deer in the spotlight. So often I misread a situation but that’s over protective mothers for you.

A few years ago, my eldest son had very few words at his disposal. On the whole, he had little interest in people.

I had taken him to the park for his daily constitutional although he still considered it to be some kind of punishment by an over bearing parent. We were alone on a Spring day in an empty park. We practiced vestibular stimulation, or rather the torture of swinging in a swing. He might not have been capable of speech but in the meantime he would learn to pump a swing, or at least that was the long term plan.

I was pre-occupied, searching for a different word, something other than ‘pump’ that would convey ‘pumping,’ when we saw a couple walking up the hill towards us in the distance. My son scrambled off the swing and blundered towards them. I watched, stunned that he appeared to want to engage with anyone at all. I couldn’t hear his words at first, but he was definitely talking to them with wild enthusiasm.

They came closer and closer up the path as my son walked backwards in front of them, barely able to remain upright. He quick stepped faster and faster as their pace increased. I watched mesmerized. As they passed me, I stepped forward, not to listen but to stop him from disappearing in the opposite direction. I beamed at the man who wore a puzzled expression. I beamed at his partner with the mannerism of someone in a cloud of flies. I quickened my step to catch my son’s arm and guide him away with an idiot grin plastered to my face, incapable of speech as I was so delighted. Six steps further on, the man paused and turned, “you should teach him not to talk to strangers!” he admonished in a tone that I found difficult to fathom.

Civic duty? Surely nothing is as important as child safety? Strangely, a couple of decades ago, I might just have plucked up the courage to say the very same thing.

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