I didn’t get to see my Sonny this weekend, but have been thinking about this for a while so thought I would write it down.
Sonny and I get a lot of attention when we are out and about (and not just because we make ridiculously good fashion choices. Well that’s mainly Sonny. Or Sonny’s parents on behalf of Sonny.) It doesn’t happen often, but Sonny can sometimes have meltdowns when we are out (which consist of flapping his hands, screaming LOUDLY, throwing anything in the vicinity and trying to run away.)
I am only aware of others though after he has calmed down. When I see Sonny getting stressed, I am so focused on him and helping him to calm down that I am totally unaware of anything other than Sonny in that moment. It is only when he has started to relax (usually after a long cuddle and some deep breathing!) that I look up and I see a fifty strong audience gawping at what a scene we have caused. At first he may just look like a naughty child, but I think it usually becomes apparent quite quickly that he has autism, as when he gets upset we sign to each other as well as talking.
Luckily, I have an impressively high embarrassment threshold. In the time I have spent with Sonny taking him out, there has only been one incident that involved other people’s reactions to him that really affected me. It didn’t embarrass me though, just made me really sad.
We were at a soft play centre, where there happened to be a big birthday party going on for a child. There was a huge mountain of presents. Sonny and I were messing around in the ball pit and he upped and bolted (he is surprisingly fast considering his legs are half the length of mine.) I ran after but I wasn’t quick enough so was looking for him for I would say MAX two minutes. Apparently that was enough time for him to cause carnage. I saw some commotion with the mums over where the party was. They were pointing to the top of the climbing frame, where Sonny was sitting. He was unwrapping three presents. Casually.
One of the irate mothers looked at my horrified face and said, ‘is he yours? You need to take better care of your child, these are his birthday presents, oh god how awful he is so naughty’ etc. I then explained that he didn’t understand because he has autism, and he didn’t do it intentionally. So I got Sonny down from the climbing frame and tried my very best to explain to him that the presents were not his to unwrap. I took him over to the angry mums (who had calmed down after they realised he has autism) to apologise.
Then something happened that I could not have predicted. I started crying. I started saying, ‘he honestly wasn’t being naughty, he just didn’t know they weren’t for him, he just doesn’t understand.’ I wasn’t crying out of embarrassment though. I think it made me more aware that through his life he will be misunderstood by so many people; His behaviour misinterpreted as naughtiness or selfishness, his communication of his anger and distress seen as ‘spoilt’ or ‘silliness’ when those feelings are genuine, feelings that need to be expressed and then respected by those around him.
I just suddenly felt really sad for all the challenges that Sonny will inevitably face in his life. This was the first time it had become so brutally apparent. I usually just think of what a wonderful adorable loveable child Sonny is, but in this situation I was confronted with the fact that other people may not see him in the same way I do. They do not understand him like I do.
Sonny was only vaguely affected by the whole affair. He seemed sad to see that I was sad. He gave me a kiss on the hand and a huge smile (showing his caring side!) Sonny is 7 years old and shows a strength of character and courage that I do not see in most adults. He will face challenges in his life. There will be barriers for him, that for those of us without autism have no idea about. But there is no doubt in my mind, not even a shadow, that he will overcome them.
He is strong.
He is stronger than he may seem.
He is stronger than I think he knows.