What Would You Do If You Met an Autistic Person?

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ABC’sWhat Would You Do?‘ recently aired a segment featuring a child actor displaying common Autistic traits out with his ‘family’ at a restaurant.  The video of the segment is below.  While this was clearly set up with actors, the crowd of other diners was real. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgwYukPReKw

I can remember many times in years past when our family did go out to eat, usually for a family get-together, the preparation for 2 hours worth of family face time was akin to planning the invasion on Normandy.  There was the ‘should we tell him ahead of time’ versus ‘don’t tell him because he’ll refuse’ tactics to figure out.  Even though the restaurant likely had the three things he liked to eat, we still had to bring our own back-up (sometimes pre-prepared) meal.  There were the activities and distractions that had to be picked out and packed along.  There were the re-configured seating plans in case a hasty exit was needed.  And of course eating in shifts (“you eat”, “no, you eat”).  And of course, despite all that planning we usually were the first ones outta there anyway, because you can only push your luck so long.  All parents on the Spectrum are familiar with these preparations. 

Looking back on all of that, and in light of this topic, I can remember the looks from other patrons; some incredulous, some concerned, a few irritated.  I remember a handful of times I heard the inimitable teeth-sucking sound of annoyance, and have had to turn around and say ‘he’s Autistic‘ twice in my son’s lifetime.  That usually ended the looks, for better or worse. 

I hope it was for the better; I hope those two words brought understanding, compassion and empathy to those onlookers.  I can’t be sure.  I am hopeful that in the ten years since his diagnosis of Autism, the world has caught up with families on the Spectrum; that they have learned about Autism, have met someone on the Spectrum, and gained some perspective about disabilities.  I hope they have become more accepting of differences, and less accepting of closed-mindedness. 

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