Personal Life Lessons: Being Too Sensitive About Autism

Posted on

A few posts back I made a comment about a great experience that my son had in his Church class, and also mentioned the concern I had about a mother who wanted to pull her son out of my son's class.  The reason that my wife and I had heard was that my son was autistic, and took too much attention away from the other children for her son to get the adequate attention he needed.  It was then surmised that she just preferred to have her son in another class, and was using my son's autism as the excuse.  That idea bothered me, and so I mentioned it slightly in that last post.  Both my wife and I took offense, though it did not effect our religious worship in any way.  I, as with most parents of autistic children, was very sensitive to any suggestion that my son was anything  but a normal child.But, in spite of the fact that I had not used any names and kept the post confidential, the mother of this child found it and realized how we had interpreted her request to move her child out of the classroom.  What happened next shook me to the core:  She apologized and explained why she was moving her son.  The reasons behind the move are not relevant to this discussion, and are personal to the parent, so they will be omitted.  But the fact that she was willing to apologize surprised me, as I found this out of character of the person I had decided she was because of the initial request.  Instead I had judged the mother rather harshly, and completely wrongly.  I had to quickly apologize for the wrong I had done her in the assumptions I had made, and offered a way to help solve the situation she was looking to accomplish with the move of her son.  This experience got me thinking about whether or not I, and others in the Autism community, are too sensitive to the events surrounding our child.  With a disability like autism where little is known about the cause and treatment, parents go though several levels of dealing with the news.  I had hoped that I was at the acceptance level, but I still get very defensive when any suggestion of a failure to parent correctly is whispered from a restaurant booth or table.  When people are afraid of my son, say things like, "he doesn't LOOK like he's autistic", and other comments about his being different, I get angry and defensive.  So, obviously, I am not quite at acceptance.  But this mother has helped me realize that, and realize that I need to change.  From this experience, I learned the following lessons: 
  1. It's easy to misunderstand:  Because we don't know what goes on in someone else's head, we try to fill in the blank.  Often times, and it seems more often than not in our current society, we tend to fill in the worst possible scenario.  So instead of giving someone else the benefit of the doubt, we tend to jump from our assumptions to rather rash conclusions.  I did this to the discredit of the young mother with whom I should have been more understanding.  
  2. Only you can take offense:  It's interesting that we say "I was offended by that", and "I took offense at that" in English, when it's so true.  Offense is one-sided.  One can only take offense, whether or not the other body is intending the offense. I look at my own situation with this young mother, and I took offense at a perceived slight that was based on an action that was unexplained.  It was not related in any way to the offense I took, and yet I was perfectly willing to do so.  That is a huge failure on my part, and one that I have vowed to correct.  
  3. Forgiveness is Divine:  It's been said before, and it is so true.  Offering forgiveness, and asking for it in return, is truly what separates mankind from the animals.  To be too proud to offer an apology, or to be too proud to accept it, is perhaps one of the biggest failures in our modern civilization to date.  No one likes to admit that they were wrong, but to assume you are right on every issue is folly in itself.  Again, in this case, I was grateful that she was willing to apologize, and to accept my apology.  But I have also looked back at other slights that I have taken offense to, whether real or imagined, and realized that it's my failure to both apologize and to accept apologies that has been the problem.  It's something that I need to work on as well. 
  4. No matter what you do, you can't hide your anger:  This I learned, because even though this young mother didn't follow my blog at all and had no idea that I posted my assumption, she found it.  It took a while to get to her through several others, but in the end she found it.  Even though I didn't add any names, identify any classrooms, or anything like that, she was still able to find it.  So no, you can't hide what you put on the Internet.  In this case, I'm glad it was not hidden as now we have been able to mend some fences and I learned some great lessons.
And so, because of this experience, I hope to have a more uplifting focus on my blog regarding autism in general.  Venting may be therapeutic, but it has no place in the public forum.  I hope that others will also learn from this experience, as taking offense at anything is often a waste of time and energy.  While you don't have to live with all that insensitive people throw at you, you do have the right to forgive and forget, while removing yourself and your family from the situation.