In Their Own Words – Mean People
This “In Their Own Words” is by Jennifer C., whose three-year-old daughter, Sierra, was diagnosed with autism at 20 months. You can read more of her writing at http://fingerprintsofautism.blogspot.com/.
My family went out to eat last night at a restaurant here in town. We usually go to kid-friendly ones that are pretty noisy already. If any of you have an autistic child you know how they cannot control their volume very well. Sierra is very loud and she doesn’t speak that well yet either, but she talks all the time and she squeals a lot when she is having fun. She was happy and being silly, a far cry from a year ago when she didn’t talk and just cried and yelled when we took her out. We try to teach her how to use an inside voice when we are out, but she does it for a minute and goes right back to being loud.
There were two elderly women sitting across the aisle from us who were just horrified by Sierra; they held their ears and shot glances at us, like my child was throwing knives at them. I do usually apologize for her being loud and I did to the other tables closer to us, but they were being nice about it. It wasn’t a constant loudness; she was being very good – eating her food and just being silly because other people were playing with her and her baby sister. When we were done, my husband got up to pay the bill and that’s when one of the elderly women said to me, “Can you keep your kid quiet or does she have to screech like that?”
I almost choked on my french fry. I have never had someone be so mean about it. If she had actually took a minute to look at Sierra, she would have noticed that she doesn’t talk clearly in any way and that she uses sign language while she is “screeching,” as she put it. That might have been a clue that maybe my child makes noise like that because she does not know how to communicate properly yet! I just said in a very loud and mad tone, “She is autistic and she does not understand how to be quiet!” Then she just gave me a blank look and said, “Okay”. I know she was a coward because she waited until my husband left the table to say it. I hope she was embarrassed. There was so much more I wanted to say but I just couldn’t get it out. I get so upset, then I start to cry and I didn’t want them to see me cry.
I think people are very judgmental about autistic children. They don’t look close enough to see that there might be something wrong with the child; all they see is an unruly child. If they walked in our shoes for one day, they would never be judgmental about another child and their family again. The next time you see a child crying by the gumball machines, it might not be that she is having a temper tantrum for candy; it could be my daughter crying because they changed what is in the machines. At the restaurant, she is crying because the chicken is stringy and she can’t eat stuff with strings hanging off. At the park, it’s because the other kids scare her. At the grocery store, it’s because we walked a different way through the store. Sierra very rarely cries because she can’t have a toy; she cries when her routine changes or when she has trouble communicating her needs, and she gets unruly when she is scared and or on uncommon ground. Imagine having to live life like that and you will think twice about being judgmental.
I love my daughter so much and I wish other people could see her through my eyes, how wonderful, loving, and smart she is, and how frustrated she gets trying to adapt in this world. It breaks my heart every day knowing that she will have to put up with mean people who don’t understand her and what autism is.
“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.