Most of the time I really don’t notice how abnormal I am. I’m kind of oblivious to such things; it’s obvious that my autistic son got a bit of me in him.
A couple of weeks ago he started training for the Special Olympics swim team. This means going to practices on Saturday mornings throughout February, as well as any swim time we can get during the week.
During his first swim practice, I sat on the little bleachers with the other parents, doing little cross-stitch kit I keep in my purse for such occasions. As we were leaving I asked the coaches if it would be all right for me to jump in the non-reserved area of the pool and paddle around while the kids were practicing. The coaches said that would be fine.
So after that I brought my own suit and paddled around while the sprog did laps. The other parents continued to sit on the bleachers. Apparently I’m the only one who wants to jump in the pool. To me, that’s weird—I love swimming, another thing my autistic son got from me.
Perhaps the other parents are thinking how strange I am. A couple of the kids did; they asked me why I was in my swimsuit. But that’s one of the great things about kids, especially those with “special needs.” If they think something is odd, chances are they’ll go investigate it, rather than hang back out of some sense of decorum or propriety. Then when they’ve checked it out to their satisfaction, they don’t view it as remarkable any more. I think that’s why adults wind up gossiping and complaining about people who act differently; they feel it’s not polite to just go over and check things out, so they never get comfortable with the differences.
But if other people don’t feel that it’s polite to investigate someone else, they can still learn about their differences when the someone else comes over to investigate them. I try to encourage my son to find the answers to things for himself; if he asks me “Why is that woman standing there?” (meaning a woman hanging around outside a store with a tray full of samples), I’ll encourage him to go and ask the woman herself. And then he gets a free cookie. I’ve never encountered anyone who has a problem with him; most people just love him right away. And while my son is only mildly autistic, so that many don’t even know he is unless I tell them, I’ve found the same to be true of other kids with special needs, if their parents can help them overcome their shyness and learn to approach people.
Some people are uncomfortable, just because they may never have interacted with a special person before and they don’t know how to behave. But just like with the kids, if you model the behavior you want, they’ll soon learn and relax. If someone is trying to address themselves to me because they don’t know quite how they should relate to my son, or perhaps one of his classmates I happen to be with, I can just politely redirect their discussion to the child until they’re talking to him directly. Soon they realize it’s not a test and the kid really just wants to interact with them. And us different people can be pretty fun to hang out with.