Ignorance is bliss – the Good Samaritan


My children grow older and bigger in the cosmopolitan, open minded bliss of Silicon Valley in California. We are so used to our children that on the whole we bimble along our trajectory with only the occasional blip. Public blips usually cause me more concern that private blips. In public there is always a dilemma, should I explain and excuse, or be evasive? I feel uncomfortable announcing to perfect strangers that my boys are autistic, especially if the children are there to overhear. I wondered sometimes if this was because I was ashamed or embarrassed or both? Even now, as I think back, I believe the underlying truth was far different from such social trifles.

The difficulty was the need to protect the person that you told. When you tell someone something that they are not expecting to hear, you put them at an unnecessary disadvantage. It always sounds like an accusation, like they're the type to drown kittens in a sack.  Pardon!  The implication is that the audience is incapable of understanding an unfamiliar ‘invisible’ disability. So often it seems unfair to dump this information on people  without prior warning.  My initial attempts were blunders, inept and clumsy.   No wonder people reacted so unpredictably, deer in the spotlight.  So often I misread a situation but that's over protective mothers for you.

A few years ago, my eldest son had very few words at his disposal. On the whole, he had little interest in people.

I had taken him to the park for his daily constitutional although he still considered it to be some kind of punishment by an over bearing parent. We were alone on a Spring day in an empty park. We practiced vestibular stimulation, or rather the torture of swinging in a swing. He might not have been capable of speech but in the meantime he would learn to pump a swing, or at least that was the long term plan.

I was pre-occupied, searching for a different word, something other than 'pump' that would convey 'pumping,' when we saw a couple walking up the hill towards us in the distance. My son scrambled off the swing and blundered towards them. I watched, stunned that he appeared to want to engage with anyone at all. I couldn't hear his words at first, but he was definitely talking to them with wild enthusiasm.

They came closer and closer up the path as my son walked backwards in front of them, barely able to remain upright. He quick stepped faster and faster as their pace increased. I watched mesmerized. As they passed me, I stepped forward, not to listen but to stop him from disappearing in the opposite direction. I beamed at the man who wore a puzzled expression. I beamed at his partner with the mannerism of someone in a cloud of flies. I quickened my step to catch my son's arm and guide him away with an idiot grin plastered to my face, incapable of speech as I was so delighted. Six steps further on, the man paused and turned, “you should teach him not to talk to strangers!” he admonished in a tone that I found difficult to fathom.

Civic duty? Surely nothing is as important as child safety? Strangely, a couple of decades ago, I might just have plucked up the courage to say the very same thing.

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What is wrong with you!

Parents throughout the world are careful to advise their children of the dangers of our modern existence. Stranger Danger refers to an earlier era, but the message remains the same. Discernment and discrimination are high functioning skills for small people to acquire, which is not helped by the confusing message that parents attempt to convey but all too frequently bungle. It's someone you don't know but also someone that you might. The stranger is a scary person but may be someone that you know. If your child already has some additional difficulties, a parents attempts at communication may flounder all the sooner.

The message from school, following a stranger awareness lesson is probably delivered in a far more efficient manner than we have managed at home, but this was a couple of years ago now, when their powers of speech were more limited. He must have been about six years old when I realized that he had two teeth where he should have had only one. I remember feeling slightly light headed at the sight of the new adult tooth standing boldly behind the wibbly wobbly baby tooth, thoroughly disconcerting. Even though he was my third child I had never come across the double teeth phenomenon, which is apparently all to common and normal.

This was the first tooth that he was about to lose, a cause of a great deal of angst for him. My attempts at explaining what was about to take place only made the situation worse. He advised me in far fewer words, that he wished to hold on to all of his current bodily parts and was unwilling to donate any of them, not matter how worthy the cause.

Like many anxious moments in childhood, the lead up to the event, was far more traumatic that the result. The tooth fell, accompanied by a microdot of blood and all was well. His countenance was a study of surprise but otherwise the drama was over.

The drama was over until nightfall when tucking in time arrived. I admit it was sheer folly on my part, but sometimes parents just follow a familiar groove without the benefit of any brain waves. I would say on his behalf that I fully indorse his view that it is unhygienic to put a tooth of any size under one's pillow, with hindsight.

In those days, an exchange of information could take a very long time. In those days, if the topic was also stressful, the exchange was accompanied with frequent meltdowns which meant that a simple exchange could take several hours.
“It is a boy or a girl?”
“Dah toof fairy?”
“Oh yes, she's a girl.”
“She is fly?”
“Yes, she flies.”
“She is read?”
“She changes colour. Whatever colour you like best.”
“No! Read!”
“Oh right. Yes, she can read and often enjoys a mystery novel in her spare time.”

Thus it was, that after a considerable period of time, my son accompanied me around the house, late in the night. We plastered A4 sized pieces of paper on many of the relevant doors. Even then, his logic was impeccable. To me, this isn’t autism this is merely the application of common sense. We covered all probable entry points, including the fireplace, to leave the message 'no fairies allowed.'

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