Autistic kids act differently than typical kids. I think most people would agree with me on that. Some act more “typically” than others, but I think most parents of autistic children have had some moments in public when they’ve gotten “the eye” from strangers.
I had one of those moments at a Nationals game once. My husband and I were there with Jack, our autistic son, and Sam, our oldest child.
Neither of them were really excited about the game, but we were keeping them busy with stadium food and sports trivia. We weren’t too concerned because even though they were a little restless, our section was mostly empty and we were at a baseball game, which is the type of place where people are not generally required to be on library-style behavior.
At some point Jack decided all the (empty) chairs in our row needed to have their seat bottoms out, instead of folded up. Everyone who noticed smiled at his quiet endeavor until he got to the end of the row and slightly nudged a jacket resting on one of the seats. The jacket belonged to a man sitting in the row behind ours.
The man immediately lashed out with, “What’s wrong with you, boy?”
I collected Jack and silently took him back to our seats, well aware that neither that man nor I could have been trusted in that situation to stay civil.
Since that day, I have done a lot of thinking about how I should have responded to him. Because that is likely not the only time someone will ask me what’s wrong with Jack.
This is important to me because I know Jack will hear how I respond to queries like this. He knows he is autistic, but I never want him to hear me using it as an excuse or suggesting that he is lesser because of it. I believe, and I tell him, that his autism makes him special in many ways.
After much thought, I have come up with my response:
“There is nothing wrong with him.”
Just that. If it seems appropriate and that my further explanation will help someone’s awareness, I will add, “He is autistic.”
Because no matter how “different” he is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with him. In fact, there are many, many things that are perfectly right with him.