If you had only known he has autism, you would have acted differently.
You would have had compassion.
You wouldn’t have called him weird or strange. You would have said ahhh, I get it.
You wouldn’t make fun of him because only a jerk makes fun of kids with autism. And you’re Autism Aware. You might even have a sticker or t-shirt to prove it. Good for you.
But you didn’t know that was what you were encountering. Because if you did…
You wouldn’t have thought him disrespectful for not looking you in the eye.
You would have praised him for working hard, working harder than everyone else around him, instead of mocking what you saw as a pathetic effort because the other kids tried half as hard and did work twice as better. But oh, autism, now you understand he really was trying his best.
You would have been a little kinder when he reacted in a big way to something you said. You wouldn’t have rolled your eyes like you did and called him dramatic. You would have understood that he can’t control his emotions as well as another kid might be able to.
You wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with his black and white attitude, yelling at him that there are shades of gray.
You would have watched your words a little more carefully, since you’d know that those harsh words you said about him became his mantra, the only truth he saw about himself, and now, thanks to you, he thinks he’s worthless.
You didn’t mean it, and that’s not what you said… except that you did because that kid with autism can remember every. single. word. you said and repeat it verbatim. And if if you didn’t mean it, why say it in the first place?
Oh, because you didn’t know he had autism and you think it’s okay to be rude or sarcastic to the little “weird” kid?
Here’s where Autism Awareness Month comes in.
It’s not just being aware of what that might look like in someone you know has autism, but being aware of what it can look like in anyone.
There isn’t always a flashing neon sign above someone’s head blinking “autism, autism, autism” with an arrow pointing down at them and sirens blaring to let you know. This is where I’ll remind you that autism is a spectrum and sometimes it’s subtle.
But if I had only known… you still want to explain.
Except that you aren’t actually entitled to know. No one is required to tell you they have autism or that their child does. And it’s not because they’re embarrassed by it or want to keep it secret, but because they don’t have to tell you everything. You don’t walk down the street, calling out personal information about yourself to people you might only come into contact with once. You have personal details about yourself you don’t disclose even to those you see on a regular basis because it’s not information they need to know.
You might still balk and think that you do need to know, especially if you’re coming into contact with that child on a regular basis. To that, I’ll tell you that if you come into contact with that child on a regular basis and you’re only going to be kind to him IF you know that he’s on the autism spectrum, but otherwise, you’re going to be rude and hateful and think he’s weird, you need to take a deeper look at the kind of person you really are.
Think about all you’ve heard about autism awareness. Is any of it at all ringing a bell as you interact with a child? Then act like the compassionate, caring, understanding adult you claim to be. And maybe it will turn out that that child doesn’t actually have autism after all, but it’s okay: you’ve acted like a decent human being to a kid who is “just weird.” This world could use a little more of that.