Sonny and I use public transport in London every time we see each other. Sometimes it’s a bus, sometimes a tube, or if we are feeling real fancy it’s a boat (we went on the Thames Clipper once). There was also a failed attempt at getting him on the Emirates Air Line, which we are definitely going to have a second go at in the future. As much as it pains me to say it, despite all the traumatic experiences I have had on London public transport, and all the personal issues I have against it, (like being my main reason for being late to pretty much everything) it has done wonders for Son.
If it’s the bus (usually the bus 82) I give Son my oyster card and he swipes it because he likes seeing the little red dot turn green. After having spent nearly two years telling him to say hello to the driver, he sometimes does it without being prompted. Then I give him the choice of where to sit and it’s usually, ‘up-de-stairs-peash.’ (up the stairs please) so we go upstairs straight to the back because that is where the cool kids go.
If he is feeling sociable we chat about what we can see, what the weather is like etc, but most of the time he sits quietly holding my hand or flapping his hands on the window. When there is someone sitting in front of him I spend the journey trying to prevent him from stroking their hair.
On the tube we go up and down the escalators three or four times before we get to the platform. We always wave at the driver as the tube comes in. Once we are on, I spend time trying to get him to stop licking the poles people hold on to. He sometimes finds it too loud or crowded, so I give him lots of cuddles.
We sit weirdly, we make strange and loud noises, we use sign language sometimes, and we (I) take a lot of selfies. But being on a bus or a tube allows us to learn about the world we live in, the different houses, the different people, and most importantly, gets us to anywhere we want to go.
Aside from the fact that being on a bus or train is a great learning experience for Sonny, I think it has some importance on a larger scale. The only way of challenging the social stigmas and views that are attached to autism is to not be influenced by them. If I didn’t take Son on a bus to avoid making other people uncomfortable or to avoid feeling embarrassed myself, then I am only perpetuating the view that autism is something to be feared or shamed or pitied. It makes me think that sometimes, an attitude can be just as disabling as a disability itself.
I understand people don’t understand, and I understand it isn’t someone’s fault for not knowing anything about autism, or even caring about it. That’s fine.
Sometimes people stare at us, sometimes people roll their eyes, and sometimes they say stupid stuff to me (someone once referred to Sonny as a mean boy). That’s not so fine.
But those reactions on some level make me feel like I should apologise for him. Like ‘Oh I am so sorry he is making a noise, or he is making you feel weird or he is lying on the floor.’ But I never do because I don’t think that is right. I just say ‘he has autism’.
He is how he is and that’s that. I won’t apologise to someone for him just being him. He has nothing to be sorry about. And he has just as much right to be on a bus or tube or anywhere else as any other city dweller.