Like a lot of people, I have my email come to my phone.
Yesterday morning, I checked it while I was getting up and discovered two that stopped me in my routine.
The first one was that a 12-year-old autistic boy was missing.
The second one was that the 12-year-old autistic boy was found “in the water.” (At the time I’m posting this, he was taken care of in the hospital because he was suffering from hypothermia. A sergeant saw his wet clothes and dry shoes at the shore, spotted him, and then went in to rescue him.)
But I didn’t know that he was still alive when I saw that headline.
I thought he, like so many other autistic kids who elope, was found dead in the water.
And I felt sick.
Sick like someone had punched me in the stomach. Sick like I couldn’t breathe in and out anymore. Sick like I had to sit down for a minute with my head down.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my kid. It was a kid. It could have been my kid.
Last week, we had an incident at school.
There is some he said/she said going on, but I have faith in the version of the story I heard from the bus aide and the bus driver:
While were loading up a kid with a wheelchair onto the bus, the aide noticed Simon.standing alone. No one was near him. No one was watching him. No one seemed to notice him.
According to the aide (and the bus driver), he seemed confused and had begun wandering from the bus area towards the car rider line.
So not cool.
So not cool it’s dangerous.
They did spot him, and they did get him and put him on the bus.
Nothing bad happened.
But all it would have taken was a one or more people not paying attention, and Simon could have been in the ocean (metaphorically since we’re quite far from the ocean).
Wandering down the road isn’t much better. It’s a busy road, and if he had gone in one direction, he’d wind up near some woods. If he’d gone in the other direction, he’d be heading towards the main highway that goes from Galveston to Dallas and beyond.
Neither of those options are much better than the ocean. Neither of those options are safe. Neither of those options make my stomach feel good.
How does this end?
Simon’s teacher is instituting a few new policies to try to make sure it never happens again. But we’re human. It most likely will happen again, even if it’s not on her watch.
This is life with an autistic child.
I never really thought I’d be writing this blog, but after this weekend, I felt the need to do so.
We’re super lucky.
Really, I say that, and I mean it.
I don’t mean that we’re lucky that our son has autism. But we’re lucky that he’s a cute little blonde boy who gets all the oohes and aahes and attention. No one really seems him as threatening or perceives him as anything other than a disabled child.
But he’s growing up. He’s 12 now, almost as tall as me, and about 130 pounds. Not so little anymore.
This past Saturday, we were at his Special Olympics bowling practice. And there was another boy there – another boy that was moving from tween to teen, another large boy who was growing up. Only this other boy was black.
He has slightly more advanced language than my son does, and he is far more outgoing, wanting to talk to everyone, share with everyone. He was especially proud that he’d just gotten his braces off, and when he saw another teen with braces, he got right into the teen’s face, showing him his now-braces-less mouth and making a comment about braces that was rather hard to understand (since his mouth was open to show off the lack of braces while he spoke).
The first thought that flashed in my mind was this: “The police would so take him down if he did that to them.”
They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t know. They would immediately judge him a danger because of his size, his inability to communicate (which could be seen as drug use instead of disability), and because – let’s just be honest here – because he’s black.
And it really hit me then. My son will get treated differently because he’s white. He probably already does get treated differently because he’s white. But when he’s grown up, when he’s walking down the street, I will need to worry about what will happen if he encounters the police, but I won’t have to worry as much as the other boy’s mother. I won’t have to wonder if he’ll be shot just for walking through the wrong neighborhood. I won’t have to wonder if he’ll be stopped and construed as “hostile” or “violent” just because of a simple thing like skin color.
Now, please realize I’m not saying that police are bad and evil. They are in dangerous situations. They have to make snap judgments. They are the ones called when someone else perceives a “dangerous situation.” So it’s not only the police that I’m really talking about here – it’s everyone out there that can escalate what is simply a boy, teen, or man with autism and an inability to communicate clearly. I used the police in my example because of recent news (and not as recent news) where police over-reacted to situations involving the poor, the homeless, and the disabled. And when a minority is thrown into any of those mixes, the situations tend to get worse.
I can’t do anything about the white privilege my son will undoubtedly – and does undoubtedly – receive. But I can try to do something about the fact that others will not get it. I can start simply by being aware. I can start by making sure others are aware. And I can start by trying to get others to understand that just because someone’s skin or nationality is different than their own does not mean that the person is any different in any other way.