Autism demands that his brain remains in a constant state of evaluation (or perhaps that is the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome FS). Either way, it’s my observation. To take in life he must constantly analyze. The autism does not dominate his brain; but rather impairs it. Is there more of a handicap when others can’t see the handicap?
They don’t see the slanted eyes that identify a difference. They don’t see a child with attachments like braces or a wheelchair. (Attachments identify a difference). Autism at his degree has no noticeable identification. Not at first, at least.
His autism causes him to know there is a difference; but he lacks the ability to see what it is that he does –or is - that causes the difference (or perhaps it is the FAS). Either way, I observe him taking in the world and now as he is getting older *he* sees the differences. He is unsure of what he does that makes there be a difference; but he knows there is one.
It’s the reason why when he senses that someone is not sure of him that he tries harder to get them to notice – to like him. You see, to Zak there is no one that he does not like. Everyone is a friend, or a potential friend. The world is full of his friends or friends that he will make as soon as he meets them – everyone. Finding someone he does not like does not occur to Zak – that is out of the question.
He does not read that they can’t handle the differences. He does not read that they don’t know how to respect differences. No, he reads their disrespect to him as something he has done wrong. That more effort on his part needs to be put out to show them that he *can* be liked; because in Zak’s world you can’t dislike someone. There is no one that he dislikes – so he must have done something wrong to make them pull away from him. He must try harder – and harder – and harder.
His persistence is annoying to those who disrespect differences. He has not clue how to read a person who makes a negative comment to him and walks away. He stands there and his brain evaluates this language. It is impossible for him to decipher because it is a language he does not speak. Rejecting someone, teasing someone, yelling at someone – is not a language that he reads even when it is spoken to his face. (I know I have watched disrespectful people bite at him with their words). Zak will sit there confused - I do not. I sit there in amazement that a person could treat someone who has come so far, made such strides forward in such a disrespectful way. I read the language loud and clear and it cuts me to the heart.
There is a person who has treated Zak in a disrespectful way not once; but many many times. A grown up. Zak has become fixated on this person - mainly because he wants more than anything for this person to like him. He does not. This does not stop Zak from trying - every time he sees this person to interact with this person in hopes that the interaction will go differently. It's like a puzzle to Zak. He must do something to make this person like him. He was fixated on it. He talked about this person frequently at home, in the car, when I tuck him into bed at night. I knew in his mind he was obsessing to try to figure out what he need to do get this person to like him. An impossible feat because ignorance in a grownup is seldom a handicap that is able to be overcome – especially when the ignorance is brought on by pride that is unwilling to be reasoned through.
We had come home and while we were out there had been yet another interaction with this person who had stooped to a much lower level than I thought possible for a grown person to reach. The words had been filled with hate and anger. I had witnessed this interaction, yet again, and knew this time that I needed to put a stop to it. We walked into the house and started putting things away and Zak started talking about this person as if he was a superhero. He told me how strong this person was, how hard he worked, how old he was….. I had heard it all before. I call it Zak's superhero talk. He does that about a lot of people. Zak talks about this person all the time. I stopped the glowing praise he was casting on this man…
“Zak what happened today when this person was talking to you?” I quizzed
Zak’s face got red and his eyes got tears in them that threatened to spill over. It was then that I realized that he reads more than I wished he could. His social literacy rate is increasing and I was seeing in my son something I had hoped that I would never witness: I was seeing that my son was seeing that someone was disliking him because he was different. I realized right then that he knew more than I thought he did.
Zak went on to relay the story about how this person had yelled at him and had been mean to him; as soon as he got done telling me about the encounter I had witnessed between the two he started back in with the superhero talk about the man. (I heard again how strong this man was, how hard he worked, how old he was...)
I had my fill. I would not sit and listen to it anymore. This person was no more worthy of Zak’s respect then a dishonest man is worthy of public office. I had to tell him the truth. I would do it briefly and honestly; but he had to know the truth.
“Why do you think he talked to you like that?” I probed.
Zak’s sat as still as a statue. He had no answer. His face got redder and I wanted to take him in my arms and tell him how sorry I was that people would treat a child with disabilities like how I had witnessed him being treated. I did not.
Victimizing a child with handicaps causes greater handicaps.
“He does not like you….” I left my words to hang in the air and be caught by his mind one by one.
There was silence. Then Zak said, “I know. I just don’t know why.”
“Because some people think that they are very important and should not have to take the time to talk to kids or have kids talk to them…” It was the truth.
Zak looked at me questioningly and then said, “Is it because of the autism? Does he not like me because of my brain?”
I told him I did not know why he did not like him; but that I did not want him talking to him anymore. “He does not want you to be friendly with him. You may say hello; but that is all. People like that need to be left alone.”
Zak looked at me with sadness in his eyes, “OK, Mom. I will just say hi to him.”
I wish people could see the world through Zak’s eyes sometimes. I wish they could see that to him, everyone is a friend. I wish they could look past the things he obsessively talks about and see that he is trying to interact with them – to be part of our world and escape the world where he is stuck. The world of autism.
I know that as Zak gets older and interacts with the world around him he will be exposed to all sorts of people. Many are kind – some are not.
Zak will always be in our care – autism has a way of making that reality (or perhaps it is the FAS). Either way I will spend a lot of my time watching Zak as he interacts with others around him; and I am finding out that when he encounters people who are disrespectful and mean I see the picture a little different than some. It is during those interactions with people that I realize Zak’s not the one with the mental handicap.
You don’t need slanted eyes to identify the difference, or braces, or Autism or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – pride and conceit are greater handicaps than any of the other things listed above. Unfortunately, for those seriously afflicted with these mental impairments they find themselves unwilling to take the very guaranteed remedy for what ails them: a steady dose of HUMILITY.