So, Joey has been attending a little dinosaur camp this week through the park district. They’ve been doing little dinosaur/fossil crafts and stuff all week and he’s loved it. When picking him up, I heard another boy say “there’s an annoying boy named Joey” when his mom was asking him and his brother how the class went. His brother saw me and told his brother to hush and I just swooped up Joey and got out of there without responding because I didn’t want to confuse Joe.
It was like a physical slap in the face. A punch in the gut. I felt myself start to physically deflate and the tears welling up as we walked out to the car. (After Joey stopped to look at the world map mural and checking that Madagascar was represented, as one does.)
I immediately started hating myself that I didn’t say anything. But what does one say? To be honest, Joey can be annoying. He’s loud, asks a million questions, can be messy, strong-willed, and sometimes needs additional assistance or instruction. He is oblivious to personal space, will interrupt people, and sometimes sings or recites dialog to himself from TV shows/movies. But he is also enthusiastic, friendly, outgoing, and carefree. He loves to learn, explore, and discover. He shares with others and is always willing to help.
All this week, I’ve wanted to say something to this mother and her boys. I’ve thought of a million different scenarios, ranging from a calm, rational explanation of ASD to a raging mama bear attack that would point out all the faults of her parenting and how troll-like her children are. (They were not troll-like . . . maybe a little ogreish.)
So today was the last day of the class. I was walking in to get Joey and I passed the trio walking down the hallway to leave and again I heard the little boy say something about “that annoying kid” to his mom. They were actually past me and almost around the corner, very easy for me to let it go again. Instead, I turned around an said,”Excuse me, I’m sorry but I want you to know that Joey is on the Autism spectrum and that might be why he was doing some things that could be considered annoying.” They stopped and turned around. The mom and older boy eyes opened wide and looked a little stunned while the younger on looked bashful and was hiding behind his mom. ” And I’d really appreciate it if you could talk to your sons about being a little more accepting and understanding about those that might act differently from what they expect.” I was barely able to get the words out at the end without letting out a sob. The mom paused and asked if she could hug me and I let her. Why, I don’t know. I then just looked at her as asked her to speak to her kids again and turned around and walked the rest of the way to the classroom and got Joey. He was so excited and proud to show me his glue covered dinosaur model that he didn’t notice the tears in my eyes.
So, I gathered up the rest of his craft projects, checked the map mural (Madagascar was still there.) and came home.
Parenting a child with special needs is hard. It can be isolating, lonely, and oftentimes filled with guilt. It’s painful to hear others say things about your child for any parent, but it’s even more hurtful when you know that some of those unflattering comments are based on his ASD. I am fully aware that I will not be able to shield Joey from this happening throughout his life. I know that kids, and adults, will look at his behaviors and judge him as “weird, annoying, a little off, etc.” I just hope that more will get to know him for who he is personally before they make their conclusions.
I hope that by sharing this story, others will think about how they teach their children about being different and will maybe dig a little deeper when they say that some “annoying” kid was in their class.