Sunday, December 11, 2011

An Elf, A Grinch, and Autism

The other day Caden, Elf, and I were in the pediatrician’s waiting room at our local hospital. As I’ve mentioned before illness most definitely brings out the autism so I wasn’t looking forward to the wait or the appointment. But after we checked in, Caden sat down beside Elf and happily started playing with his ipad.  The waiting room was fairly quiet so I was cautiously optimistic that our wait wasn’t going to be too problematic. Then the hospital volunteer spotted us and marched over…..

First she stated that she had seen “a dog.”  Couldn’t disagree with that statement—the big black lab with the bright red harness and the eternally happy look on his face is most definitively a service dog. I confirmed Elf’s purpose (illegal by the way to ask what conditions a person has when they have a service dog in public) and established that he was indeed Caden’s service dog. The service part of the dog seemed to take the wind out of her sails but instead of leaving she decided to engage Caden….shoot me now.

She asked Caden if he had a computer. To which he replied no it’s an ipad. She launched into a very long and loud lecture about how kids these days have no respect for elders. Interestingly I on the other hand, was doing a mental happy dance.  1) He replied to a stranger’s comment. 2) He replied clearly enough that she, a complete stranger, could understand him. 3) I love the fact that he is so precise and honestly he’s right when we refer to a computer in our house we are talking about the desktop or laptop, the ipads are something very different. I wish instead of getting mad she could have considered how many hours and weeks and years of speech therapy and interactional work when into the seemingly simple sentence “no, it’s an ipad” and still go into keeping that sentence and hopefully adding more.

She decided to get into Caden’s face---seriously several inches from his face---and tell him he was too old to be chewing on things. Let’s look at this for a moment---why would you even consider getting into someone’s face when they are waiting to see the doctor—this seems like dumb idea 101 to me. But again instead of being so judgmental I wish she could have tried to understand what a huge accomplishment him using a chewy is.  We have worked for months to find a chewy that he is comfortable with and will consider using. This is a major step for us as this has helped him taper the pacifier down to bedtimes and true emergencies.  I’m also not sure why this is so much “worse” than the college students I see every day chewing their nails or their hair or their pencils—at least I can sanitize the chewy every night and it isn’t causing him or anyone else any harm.

The final straw came however when she decided to point out to him that if he wasn’t a good boy Santa Claus wouldn’t bring any presents to his house. Again let’s go back to dumb ideas 101, how can a hospital volunteer assume that we celebrate Christmas or that a family has enough money for presents. But even more than that, Caden wasn’t doing anything “bad” or “wrong” he was just trying to use his chewy and his ipad as well as his dog (he had one hand buried in Elf’s hair for comfort)as enough of a distraction to keep himself from crawling under the chair or trying to run away to hide.  Honestly it was such a huge victory for him that he was staying instead of giving into the fight or flight instinct. And let’s just go back to stupidity 101 one last time—the kid has a service dog. Even if you don’t know what autism is, doesn’t the presence of a service dog give you some clue?

It was at this point that I might have stated (more loudly perhaps than I intended) that there was no question that Santa would be at our house with a sleigh full of toys because Caden was an amazing little boy who was my hero each and every day.  I may have stood up during this proclamation and I may have drawn the intention of the entire receptionist staff who decided that it was a very good time to intervene. While one receptionist remembered an errand that they needed the volunteer to run, another reception notified the nurse who suddenly discovered it was time to call us back even though the doctor wasn’t back in the office yet. 

I don’t expect everyone to know as much about autism as we do. Heck I don’t expect people to know anything about it if they aren’t affected by it yet. But I do expect people to show basic common courtesy and decency particularly toward a child. With or without a disability most sick children waiting to see the doctor need their space and parents need left alone to do what their sick child needs. Heck even if the child isn’t seeing the doctor because they are sick, they are usually nervous because well they are seeing the doctor for some reason.  Not everything is always as it seems. If autism has taught me one thing I can say that I’ve learned to just give people, particularly children, the benefit of the doubt. Honestly it doesn’t take any more or any less energy than judgment.