Mother Bear Attends Holiday Gathering
It takes a special person to invite a family with an autistic child to her house, especially when the function will take place indoors. And it’s been a while since the four of us have attended a non-family gathering. Social situations are often loud, unpredictable, and chaotic—none of which are good for our autistic child. But the other day we were feeling brave, so we off we went to a friend’s house for a party.
I’d prepared myself to deal with the evening on an adult level. I would need to steer my daughter away from foods she couldn’t have, and I knew I’d feel the need to explain her condition to people who didn’t know her. I suppose it’s a defense mechanism, but I’d rather explain right away that she is autistic and nonverbal. It makes me feel more comfortable when she does things like hoot and spin in circles. For the most part, it seems to do the same for others.
What I hadn’t thought about was the other kids. So often, most of my social situations with her involve only a few kids at a time, and most of them understand that she is different. They usually let her little eccentricities slide without comment. I had not anticipated what a large party would be like for her and the other kids.
When my eldest came downstairs to tell me her sister was taking off her clothes, I hurried to take care of it. I walked into the room and found my youngest half-naked on a rug surrounded by a large group of children who were laughing and pointing at her. Thankfully, she’s oblivious, but I’m not. The mother bear in me roared. It was all I could do not to say something in anger. The situation worsened when another little girl came marching into the room with several others in tow to laugh at what my daughter was doing. I felt like everyone in the room was making fun of her. I gritted my teeth and told them it wasn’t funny. Then I asked the little girl not to encourage others to make fun of her friend who can’t help the way she is.
I walked away, but couldn’t fight the tears that kept pooling in my eyes. Was this what school would be like for her? Will all kids be so cruel? Sadly, once I calmed down I realized I’d missed an important opportunity to educate all those kids about autism. Perhaps I could have turned the situation around and made some allies for my daughter. I also realized that I’d probably perceived the situation as worse than it was.
It’s difficult to see events clearly when emotions cloud my thinking. In the future, I hope I can step back and evaluate the situation with less emotion, and that I’ll be prepared to educate others instead of feeling defensive.