By Anne Dachel
All of us have had those difficult moments while raising an autistic child. Often those around us simply don’t understand what we’re up against. I’ve had lots of experience with this because my son is 25 with Asperger’s. Even very high functioning kids have their idiosyncrasies. Much of my son’s OCD behavior has improved over the years but when he was little, he had so many rigid rules for what he would and wouldn’t do, it drove me to distraction. There weren’t a lot of kids who acted like him back then, which made matters even worse and the message I got was clear: it must be the mother’s fault that he acts like he does. I’ll always remember one Christmas when a relative, in exasperation, shouted at me, “When are you going to teach him the meaning of the word, NO?” The struggle is made even worse by all those who are quick to judge and criticize.
Recently an incident happened to a friend of mine, Maurine Meleck, that made it clear that caregivers still have to explain autism to others. Maurine lives in North Augusta , S.C. where she raises her grandson Joshua (14), who has autism. Recently, she was taking care of both Joshua and his neurotypical brother, Conner (12).
Maurine explained what happened:
“Joshua had had some minor dental surgery while Connor was at my house recovering from the stomach flu. Joshua was at the dentist for only an hour, but he had been given a mild sedative to make him calm. He walked out light on his feet and had to be taken to the car by the nurse. Meanwhile, Connor called and was dying for ice pops. I decided to run into Publix, our closest grocery store. Josh was sleepy, but not asleep. I told him to remain in the car for 5 minutes while I ran in the store to get the ice pops. (Joshua takes part in many activities without me around and I was certain that he’d be able to handle my small request.) When I returned to the car after 5 to 8 minutes in the store, Josh was gone. I panicked and called out for him--ready to call 911 due to his sleepy state. Suddenly I heard a muffled sound say, ‘Grandma.’
“I said, ‘Where are you?’
“Josh answered, ‘I'm in the trunk.’
“Joshua had crawled into the trunk from the back of the car by opening up the backseat.
“Next I opened the trunk and he climbed out-oblivious to what he had done or the obvious possible consequences on a very hot day.
“As I am helping him out of the trunk, a woman is walking out of store and asks me, ‘What’s going on? Why is your child in the trunk.’
“I related the story as quickly as I could so she would not feel the need to contact anyone, and I drove away, hoping there’d be no repercussions. But by the time I arrived home ten minutes later, three police cars with lights going were at my condo.
“Policeman #1 said, ‘We just had every available patrolman out looking for your car. Someone called 911 and said you locked your child in the trunk of your car.’
“The officer asked what happened. ‘Why was your child in the trunk?’
“Okay, let me start from the beginning, I ran in…
‘The officer interrupted me, ‘We don't want to hear the story behind it--Did you or did you not lock your child in the trunk?’
“First of all, he's my grandson, and no, I did not lock him in the trunk.’
“The officer asked, ‘Why was he in the trunk?’ And every time I started to tell my story he stopped me saying, ‘I'll have to report this...’
“Finally I became exasperated and began talking as fast as I could before I was interrupted again. Of course I began with, ‘My grandson was vaccine injured,’ (the most important part of my long story).
“I then went into explaining all the things I was doing to help my grandson, and about how they could call 30 people right now who can tell them I would never do what the woman said
“Policeman #2 said, ‘No, no, we are not calling anyone.’ He then gave Joshua a lecture about the dangers of climbing into a trunk and finally they left. I feared they would call the Department of Social Services so I contacted a friend who phoned the police department and was able to convince them otherwise.
“I'd like to think that there's something we can all learn from this story and sadly, all I can come up with is that most of us have children who can be as unpredictable as the weather forecast. When others bear witness to this unpredictable behavior, they rarely have any understanding of the nature of autism so their behavior becomes just as unpredictable.
“It can be frightening. It can be a challenge, no matter how many years we've been raising our children or grandchildren, as in my case.”
Since we’re always being told about the need for AWARENESS, Maurine’s experience a good example of just what that means. When it comes to a child with autism, the unpredictable becomes the norm.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism. Subscribe to her news feed at AnneDachel.com.