Please, bear with me…I know I’m going to come across as a horribly old, cranky, not-with-it person, but I do have a point.
Raise your hand if you have a child, or are close to someone, or actually have ASD. OK…good. Present and accounted for, and I should have waited until AFTER my shower AFTER our run to raise my hand, but that’s neither here nor there.
Every single day, as J’s parent and primary caregiver, I work with him to make him more socially functional. This is, as you know if you raised your hand, not as easy as it sounds to those uninitiated in the intricacies of ASD.
J has been taught when to say HELLO, and still has to be reminded. His response to HELLO is something he has learned through effort and consistent repetition. HELLO means to him something he does to fit into a social scenario. When it does happen spontaneously, it is quite lovely, and we make a huge deal of it.
J has also had to learn that eye contact (while disturbing and difficult for him) is something other’s expect, and we encourage it when he feels comfortable with it. We have also taught him to respond to his name; he knows when he’s being addressed, and we expect him to show a certain degree of attention, even if it’s only for a very brief moment.
We don’t expect J to be a walking, living, breathing example of Emily Post’s etiquette, but we do expect him to behave closer to what is considered acceptable social behavior so that others know an effort is being made, and so he will feel more a part of his social surroundings. He is NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, a trained monkey, and we know that there are moments when his social behavior will be contingent on other stimuli that he cannot process in a way that satisfies others. We do, however, expect him to ask for HELP and ESCAPE if he’s feeling overwhelmed and that, as you know if you raised your hand, is a significant social consideration towards others.
And here goes the rant…
Our tall, handsome, burly son is looked at like a weirdo when he displays any degree of antisocial behavior “out there” in the world. People look out of the corner of their eyes, once in a while you can see they’re commenting, and they react as if J has committed some horrible faux pas if he doesn’t act like we think people are supposed to act when in the presence of others. By this I don’t mean scratching his but, picking his nose, chewing with his mouth open, or farting in public (although he has done that, and we’ve told him he should ask for the bathroom because it’s off-putting.) No, what I mean is when someone talks to him, J doesn’t answer or look at them. That, my friends, is considered RUDE by the general population…
Let’s cut through the myth of the benevolent, happy-go-lucky disabled person who smiles and is extremely friendly. That can be true, but it can also be bullshit. Everyone has their moments, and (if you raised your hand) you KNOW that responding to the social cues in the way people expect can be overwhelming and, at times, even physically painful.
This is my point…really, I’m getting there…
We stand in line at the store, and in front of us are countless people who are on their cellphones. They are talking, or texting. They barely acknowledge the cashier. They answer curtly, abruptly, rudely. They ignore the “good morning” or the “did you find all you were looking for today?” The cashier might roll his/her eyes, and chalk it up to “that asshole was rude.”
Cue us getting to the register. We are NEVER on our phones. We try to engage with the cashier with greetings, and thank you, and what not. But heaven forbid the cashier should talk to J and J should not engage with them. The sourness in the face of the person who says hello to him and doesn’t get a hello back is so obvious! We try to explain, and we encourage J to respond socially…sometimes it works, others it doesn’t.
When you tell a cashier that your adult child has ASD and is non-verbal, they might reel back the deflation they previously displayed, or they might ignore YOU. Why? Because the rudeness, or the lack of social skills are the result of something that cannot be controlled. If a person is focusing on their iPhone and acting like a self-absorbed ass, well, that iPhone cost a lot of money, and they’re paying for a service. If a person is acting self-absorbed because Autism is part of their make-up…well, how dare they????
Look…I have nothing against cellphones. Ok, that’s not true…I think cellphones have caused a greater deterioration of social skills than any other item we carry on ourselves. Cellphones have destroyed our ability to communicate with each other because we are so focused on that one thing that we block out what surrounds us. People now text in abbreviations and acronyms. People no longer know how to sit in a waiting room not looking at what they have in their hand.
Case in point: on Tuesday I went to the doctor. I was the only person there with a book. The people who were on their phones suddenly saw something on the TV screen that they could latch on to for conversation, and they were GOOGLING about it while talking to each other. I suddenly realized that they were looking at me like I was the rudest person in the room because I was not participating in this ritual…because I was reading. So my absorption in this task was rude because I couldn’t look for a contribution to make to their conversation in an item that has no capabilities for accessing information from the ether.
I will sound like an old and cantankerous old lady, but the majority of kids out there are rude! They don’t know how to talk to grown-ups; they don’t have the basic skills of courtesy and social interaction that my generation had to learn because our parents expected us to know how to behave. Those same kids look J up and down like he’s a freak because of the way he acts, but how different is their self-absorbed, phone-obsessed, socially-inept behavior from his? Oh, wait…it IS different because he is not focusing on himself, and failing to focus on others, in a socially-acceptable way.
I’m sure that if J walked around with earbuds, sunglasses, a cellphone in hand, people would just say “oh, he’s just a product of his generation.” As it stands, J is just strange and antisocial, and we REALLY should’ve done a better job helping him adapt to society…
Rant over…thank you. As you were.