My son is amazing. Brilliant, funny, kind, and autistic, he is always striking up conversations with strangers. He wants to pet their dogs, compliment their colored hair, or if they are elderly greet them with a cheerful, “Hi Gramps!” He likes to teach people about dinosaurs and his favorite color (orange). He has a lot to say, but it isn’t always easy to understand his message. Even with nine years of speech therapy, his words aren’t always clear.
People want to know why he sounds younger than age, and why they can’t figure out what he’s saying. I tend to answer briefly, “Autism”. I start to become uncomfortable, worried about what comes next. I try to quickly change the subject, before my son overhears us and asks “Are you talking about me?”
You see, he knows he is autistic. He is proud of that. He also knows he has speech delays, and those he is not proud of. He doesn’t yet know just how much of the world considers his diagnosis a tragedy or himself a burden. He doesn’t know that some people would hate him or discriminate against him based on it. He will learn, but please not today.
Spare your questions about vaccines and your opinions on cures for a time when my child won’t have to listen. Save your thoughts about what “those kids” need. He can hear you. He understands you, even if you can’t understand him. You’re curious and that’s okay. But when I’m out with my son, Mother is my job, not Public Health Educator. You can wait to search online for the answers you seek.
Being disabled in public can make someone really self-conscious. They already know the ways their body defies expectation and the ways they stand out. Be cognizant of the fact that disabled people, child and adult, have places to go and things to see, and answering your personal questions about their private health probably isn’t on the day’s agenda. No one owes you their diagnostic label or medical history just to slake your curiosity. It’s okay to be curious. It’s okay to do independent study. But please, don’t share your bigoted misconceptions about autism with me while my son is present. Keep them to yourself.