Respect and Understanding: It’s a Two-Way Street

20 Sep

What is it we all want from the non-autism world? Respect. Respect that our children can’t always control their behaviors or reactions. Respect that we are all doing the very best that we can. Respect that we as parents know what is best for our children. And understanding. Understanding that our children need special accommodations. Understanding that our child’s needs will take precedence over everything else in our lives.

But don’t we all sometimes forget that the people we are asking this from deserve it back in return? I’m not saying that parents of autistic children are inherently disrespectful or not understanding, but it is (and I speak from personal experience here) very easy to become so wrapped up in our own child’s need or situations that we can inadvertently disregard those needs of others. And it can become a bad habit.

This was driven home to me recently when a friend with an autistic child in a different school district than The Princess’s described what happened at her school’s open house. She was waiting to speak with her child’s teacher and overheard another parent telling the teacher particular things her child needed. She kept saying, “they wouldn’t put this on his IEP, but he HAS to have x.” As my friend was listening she realized that some of these things (burning scented candles for example) were not in the best interest of other children in the classroom (the candle thing is also against fire code and could be very dangerous). The teacher smiled patiently and told the mother they would use these “suggestions” and balance them with the needs of other children in the classroom. The mother said she hoped so because the child “had to have these things.”

That situation played out as “extreme” in my mind, but I’ve known parents who have asked that a restaurant dim all of its lights to accommodate their child or called another child’s parents to ask that all the food at a birthday party be gluten-free (and in that case the parent who called wasn’t asking for some gluten-free alternatives but that ALL the food be gluten-free at a typical child’s party with all the other children being typical). Most of us don’t even go that far, but there are a million small ways we could do this every day.

I’ve taken The Princess to the store when I knew she shouldn’t have gone. I knew that was pushing her further than she needed to go because she was overtired or having a really major sensory day.  And still I went. Not because I HAD to have something right then and there. This was not an emergency of having run out of toilet paper or anything like that. I just wanted to go then. And I expect the people there to treat me like a good parent when she has a melt-down because I’m giving her joint compressions to try to calm her down. But if  I were truly being a good parent, I wouldn’t have brought her out at all. I knew it was probably going to be too much, but I did it anyway. I didn’t take The Princess into consideration and I certainly wasn’t thinking of other patrons who would be forced to listen to her if she melted down. I’m not talking about a random melt-down that I don’t know what set her off. I’m talking about something that was completely avoidable, but I felt like people should give her and me a pass because of autism.

I’ve learned though, that sometimes, if The Princess’s needs will be so great as to majorly affect others, that we don’t go to the birthday party or we bring our own food if the menu is something I know she won’t eat because of color, texture, smell, whatever. I can’t expect the entire world to bend to us all of the time! I appreciate understanding when things happen out of my control, but I’m not going to blame someone for being annoyed when I knew good and well that this was very likely to happen. And I certainly don’t go into Monkey Joe’s and ask all the other paying customers to keep their kids quiet so The Princess doesn’t have an issue.

Should we be educating people? Yes, we should. But we need to remember that respect and understanding are two-way streets. You gotta have some to get some.

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