"All kids do that": Appropriate Responses.
So my curly haired twin, Jillsmo, is hosting this series about how the things we go through as Autism parents is NOT just like what parents of “typie” kids go through. There was a trend on Twitter a while back-- #youmightbeanautismparentif where we shared the challenges and joys of raising a child with autism. It wasn’t really for anyone OTHER than autie parents, but as we have friends and followers with typical kids, there were a few “well, MY kid does that too” comments made. And it rubbed some of us the wrong way. Ok, a lot of us.
So I’m talkin to my Old Man about it, and he sees nothing wrong with the statement. That they are trying to comfort us and offer empathy—that they are trying to say—“hey, your kid is practically typical!” And you know what? That still bugs.
So then I get going on some intense navel gazing, which is my habit really. Either I am an optimist or I am tapping into my inner Puritan focusing on self–perfection, but I’m always thinking “what am *I* doing wrong?”
Example: there’s a section of Lankershim Blvd (for those of you who know LA) in which the cars around me CONSTANTLY pac-man (not staying in their lane, “eating” the hash marks, if you will). ALL THE TIME. And what do I think? “How am I driving wrong that people do this around me? I don’t hear anyone else bitch about this part of the road…” You see, I spend a lot of time trying to find fault with what I’m doing rather than place blame.
Until it becomes so obvious that thinking like that would lead to an ulcer. Then I will place blame wholeheartedly.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to work my brain around this concept. Am I just being defensive? Is there a humongous chip on my shoulder when it comes to Autism? Why can’t I just see the empathy and camaraderie that some folks are trying to convey?
Ok. First problem: the phrase “some” folks. We know that within the people who are just trying to be comforting are the folks that are internally saying:
- quit bitchin about your kid—we don’t care about autism
- life is no harder than yours, so you don’t get the right to bitch
- ok, this is when we stop talking about you and start talking about me
So, as well meaning as “some” people are—we don’t necessarily hear it amongst all the others. Because once you’ve heard any of those other tones, it’s hard to hear the good stuff.
Second problem: that trend wasn’t to say “oh, look at how hard my life is,” but rather a “hey, we’re not alone in this, are we?” Because that’s what our internet relationships are like in the Autie world. 99% of my friends with kids with Autism are internet relationships. And without them I would be a fucking mess (as compared to the chaste mess I am currently?) We reach out to these other parents for a sense of community we may not have around us due to lack of connection or *ahem* a hermit-like misanthropic view on life. *ahem*
And as I’m diving deeper into my bellybutton (wow, that’s a lot of lint) I realize that as much as it is annoying because our lives are very different from the lives of typical parents, it’s boiling down to more of a courtesy thing that’s buggin me.
To help clarify this, I will step AWAY from Autism.
[Let it be noted that I am NOT comparing Autism to cancer in any way. This is hyperbole. Thank you—the management.]
Let’s say you have Cancer. Like ovarian or something that has made you infertile. And you’ve never had a kid even though you always wanted one. And you are going through a round of chemo. So you are physically sick and emotionally sick and you feel like you’re dying, BECAUSE YOU ARE, and while you are normally a stoic survivor, you feel like ass, so you take a moment to have a pity party and complain about the nausea and lack of energy that chemo does to you. And your fertile friend Sally with her eight kids in tow and a big belly looks at you and says “yeah, all my pregnancies make me feel like that too.”
You wanna smack her, right? Like hard. With a chair.
Because in ANY situation in which a person is sharing a hardship (I’m not talking complaining here—that’s an entirely different topic) there are only a few respectful responses:
- That must be tough
- That sounds entirely frustrating
- What can I do to help?
- Do you like your margaritas blended or on the rocks?
Because when someone is sharing—I mean really sharing, there is no place for a story about you, unless you are asked something like “what would you do,” in which case you can totally tell them how you had to hide the body that one time, and boy, blood just will NOT come out of shag carpeting.
And don’t get me wrong, I struggle with this as well. Sometimes I catch myself doing it, and then I feel like an eejit and then offer baked goods in exchange for my callousness. And when someone really breaks down and shares all sorts of tragic, touchy feely shit, I am often mute when people share with me because I feel like ANYTHING I say will sound stupid—and that’s tagged me as a good listener. Which is odd, considering my hatred for anything remotely involved in human emotion.
So, maybe what I’m trying to say is that it might be a good idea to THINK before you SPEAK. Revolutionary, I know.
We aren’t complaining. We are sharing. Our lives, while seemingly the same, are DIFFERENT. Period. A completely different paradigm. (wow, I haven’t used this much vocabulary since college!) We are not saying it is worse, or better, or the same. We are just SAYING. And all we are really looking for is a nod an a refill.
Maybe that’s our problem. We need more bartenders in our life. Yes. That’s it! When you don’t know what to say, bring out your internal bartender! I don’t know about you, but for me, he ALWAYS has the right response.