I can see it very clearly. I’m pushing a shopping cart through a store. In the cart rides Matthew, my four year old son with autism. He’s making the sounds he makes…
Sometimes when he’s happy, the sounds he makes are loud. You might say they are screams, but happy screams. When he is happy and loud, we do what we can to keep him somewhere below an F-16 on full afterburner. It’s not that I’m worried he’ll ruin ten seconds of someone’s shopping trip … it’s that I worry what I’ll do if someone says anything cross, or gives me a look that can’t be taken in any other way.
You see, I’m always in full-blown autism dad alert mode … just waiting for some parent with “perfect” kids to trip on the wire and have the autism awareness grenade that is me explode and rip them into tiny, self-righteous bits right in the middle of Target.
Which brings me to our trip to the grocery store that evening.
Same scenario as before. Matthew is in the cart. I’m pushing. My wife and daughter have the list and are leading the way.
Matthew lets out a couple of loud happy sounds — approaching F-16 volume — as we peruse the outer regions of the produce section. No biggie. There are a lot of people there and everyone is focused on getting in and getting out.
I decide we need bananas. The banana area is crowded, so I leave the cart — and Matthew — with my wife and head in.
Just as I reached the bananas, I heard Matthew’s happy squeal again.
And wouldn’t you know it … someone tripped on the wire.
I heard: “Christ there goes that kid, screaming again.”
This comment was made by a fortyish male grocery store worker, to his coworker, who stood about ten feet away (so it was said loud enough for everyone around him to hear).
I was behind him, so I saw his coworker roll his eyes and nod his head in agreement.
I calmly bagged my bananas and turned to face the guy.
“Excuse me … the little boy you’re complaining about? That’s my son. He has autism. He’s four and doesn’t speak. He gets excited and screams sometimes. He’s not throwing a fit … it’s just what he does.”
He had the look of someone who just got caught talking small smack about someone else’s kid.
He threw in a few “I’m sorry”s and a “He’s not as loud as some of the kids in here” as I spoke.
I ended up giving a very nutshell explanation of autism to the guy.
I wasn’t angry with him. He was quick to apologize and listened to what I had to say. I patted him on the shoulder as I walked away and said “I hear it all the time.” Looking back, I hope he took that as, “I hear my son’s happy squeals all the time” and not “I hear people complain about my son all the time.” I may clarify if I ever see him again.
I might have been that guy in my former life. Hell, I know I’ve been that guy. Maybe I wasn’t so open with my complaints, but I’d get annoyed when I saw or heard a kid going bonkers in public.
Not anymore. I give the courtesy to others, and I sometimes foolishly expect to receive it.
This was a minor thing, and I reacted accordingly I believe.
So that’s that. The trip wire isn’t as sensitive as I thought it was…
But it will always be there, waiting for the next person to step on it. How hard they step determines how hard the grenade explodes.
a version of this post was previously published at autismspoke.blogspot.com