Over the summer, I went to a wildlife park with a friend. I brought my son; she brought her granddaughter. My son was 11. Her granddaughter was 5. My son is autistic. Her granddaughter is typically developing. She was friendly, she was happy, she really thought it was a great time, and she totally wanted to interact with my son. But he wasn’t so interested in her. He wanted to look around, he wanted to take the tram ride, he wanted to pet the reindeer. He ignored her, though. He rebuffed her. She asked questions; he didn’t answer. She offered him things; he looked at her and didn’t respond. That’s when I found out that my friend had told her granddaughter that my son was “shy.” She wasn’t sure how to explain that he was autistic. Or maybe she wasn’t sure if she should tell him. Or…well, I don’t know why else she wouldn’t have told her. Regardless, part of me want to scream and shout. Part of me felt that I had no right to push the information, though. It wasn’t my granddaughter. I couldn’t tell her that her grandmother had lied, and I couldn’t tell her that her grandmother was wrong. My friend obviously had her reasons. I just disagreed with them.
If we don’t tell our children (or grandchildren, as the case might be) about these differences, then we have problems coming in the future and in our present.
But first, let me look back just a few years. It somehow reminded me of an episode of Quincy. Yes, Quincy, M.E. From the 1970s. 1978 to be exact, in the episode “A Test for Living.” The episode had a small boy who was autistic, and he ruined his sister’s birthday party by his autistic behaviors. Quincy just happened to know about autism (because, apparently, medical examiners are totally up on the new medical diagnoses in the field), and he went and tried to help the family. Meanwhile, the family wanted to lock the kid up in an asylum because they couldn’t handle him and he had all these problems. And Quincy argued for keeping him in the home and helping him because he’d had to do an autopsy on someone else who had been placed in that asylum, also for apparent autism.
What does that have to do with this problem? Lack of knowledge. If we don’t tell people about autism, they don’t know about it. It’s just that simple. And in this case, it was purposeful and unnecessary ignorance. The knowledge was had, and it was withheld. Why would you choose to keep a child in the dark about something that could affect them? Especially because it did affect her.
Which leads to the second problem – a lack of understanding. She didn’t understand why he was the way he was. She really didn’t understand why Simon wouldn’t play with her or talk to her. She didn’t understand why Simon was sitting there, repeating phrases from television shows, ignoring some of the animals, not looking when I tried to point things out to him, only answering simple questions about the names of animals and other things like that. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t care if he got to feed the animals or not.
Which then leads to the third problem – a lack of empathy. If you don’t understand why someone is doing something, or why they *have* to do something, then you don’t feel for them, either. People understand what having cancer is like. They feel for those who have it, they feel for the pain they go through, they feel for the treatment and the pain it causes, they feel for all those things. But if someone didn’t understand what cancer or its treatments were like, how could they have empathy for them? They couldn’t. Without understanding, there can’t be empathy.
Which leads to the final problem – bullying. No knowledge. No understanding. No empathy. It must be time to bully someone! Okay, so maybe those aren’t the only things that cause bullying. Bullying is far too complex to cover in a single paragraph, and it’s far too complex to break down to just a few causes. And I don’t mean to say that my friend is causing it, either. Her granddaughter seemed caring and feeling, and I don’t think that she would have made fun of Simon, regardless of her lack of knowledge and understanding. But I do think that these things do help build that basic framework that leads to more problems and that leads to bullying.
So, in my title, I said “what to do when people lie about your child’s autism.” Honestly, I don’t know what to do. My preference is to educate them so that they don’t lie anymore. Any maybe this blog can be my first step to doing just that…