When in Rome, Do as the Romans.
Except when you have Autism, you’re not in Rome, you’re on one of Saturn’s moons. And there are no Romans, they are beings that don’t communicate like you at all. They are loud and unpredictable and insist that you follow their customs and are bewildered and sometimes angry when you don’t understand them or communicate back to them in their own strange and difficult to learn language.
“They” say that something like 80% of human communication is non verbal. Ever participate in a team building exercise where you are put in a group and asked to build something like a house of cards or tall structure with play-doh and straws WITHOUT SPEAKING to each other? Since I’m in school right now (for Early Childhood Education), I have done a lot of these recently in different classes. Typically those with Autism have an extremely difficult time understanding non verbal communication, no matter what end of the spectrum they are on. If it’s difficult to communicate, missing the 20% of verbal communication, imagine how devastating it is to be missing or struggling with the 80% of non verbal?
I really am going somewhere with this. It started out being a post about restaurant visits. But this weekend it really was bigger than that, and it ended up as a post about so much more.
A couple weeks ago we took M to a restaurant of her choice for her birthday. It was a mess. It was busy and she was overwhelmed before we sat at the table, then it turned into her screaming that everyone at the restaurant were a bunch of “stupid idiots” (her favorite phrase when she is upset…thanks Home Alone for the word idiot).
Friday night my husband’s mom took us to dinner at a restaurant we all enjoy. It had been a pretty good day so I thought it might go pretty well. But, well…the table…
See, it was round.
On the opposite side of the resturant than we usually sit.
I guess I am glad she only said “stupid idiots” a couple times, but she had an extremely hard time sitting in her seat. She had some episodes of screaming and echolallia. Tried to run away twice…I had to take her out to walk around the building several times, and I almost took her home but blueberry bread saved the day. It was a rough outing. Restaurants almost always are, I’m not sure why we still try from time to time.
Yesterday was rough, too. She panicked as soon as we walked into the Farmer’s Market and was yelling, spinning, pinching and rubbing her fingers in her mouth. She was impatient and angry. I was going to go to a kids’ clothing sale but turned around as soon as I saw they had a line. We went to a music festival (it was a real struggle to get her there including her screaming at everyone for not being totally silent the whole way there) and refused to listen to music.
So how does this fit?
M (and others like her) wake up every morning on one of Saturn’s moons. We as society expect them to acclimate to our language and customs and start acting accordingly. After all, they look like us so it shouldn’t be hard for them to learn our language, right? Don’t get me wrong, everyone we encountered was kind, and I didn’t feel embarrassed about her behavior… I think everyone involved handled it well, actually. But it’s hard at times, even for we parents that live it every day, to understand why they can’t just figure it out, calm down and enjoy themselves or at least control themselves a little like everyone else. It’s important to remember (and especially for us parents to remind themselves every day) that while we could adjust pretty quickly in Rome, we have a small language and culture barrier compared to all an autistic child has to learn about us strange, unpredictable neuro-typical people.