The People That You Meet
By Kub Marshman
I can feel my upper lip begin to take that familiar shape. It's the same shape my dad's lip used to make whenever he was about ready to explode with fury. That was the first sign of danger, friends. God help whoever was on the receiving end of "the lip" and verbal assault.
There I was, in our local Wal-Mart, with my seven-year-old, Adam. Adam has autism and does not speak. Some children with autism have "their thing." Some stare at ceiling fans, some stare at windows, or some stare at Kelly Ripa for hours (scratch the Ripa comment – that's his old man). Adam's "thing" is doors. Opening and closing doors, especially when he enters a different environment from home, is what Adam does to calm himself (or maybe he just loves to do it – who the heck knows).
There we were walking down the main aisle on one end of the store, heading to aisle number 7. When we pass the freezer section Adam can't help himself. He always makes his way to the same door, gives it a good fling, runs back to me as quickly as possible, and turns around to admire his work. "How annoying," bellows this person who was walking straight at us.
A metamorphosis begins. Not only does my upper lip begin to curl, but my blood pressure spikes to somewhere around 263/182. Like David Banner turning into the incredible hulk, I transform from the usually easy going Kub Marshman into James A Marshman, my deceased father of all that is/was right in this world. Instead of being green, I'm red with anger. I respond with, "Excuse me?!?!" "You shouldn't let him do that", continues this person. "I try not to let him 'do that', but he has autism. He can't help it," I shoot back. "That doesn't matter, you need to make him stop," says this person. I erupt. "DO I KNOW YOU?! YOU NEED TO MIND YOURSELF MA'AM! DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TELLING YOU?" (caps inserted to try and capture the moment)
The whole time this person is backing away from me, literally walking backwards, waving a hand at me as though I was a pesky fly. "You better go get him. He just left with your cart," the person responds. Without looking behind me I say, "I know where he is headed.
He is going to aisle 7. WE ALWAYS GO TO AISLE SEVEN!"
While in Super Target' Adam and I cruise the Halloween gear (to me, I like adding the French thingy at the end of the word "Target." It always makes the store sound so exotic). Adam has discovered that when you push the button on top of this candy bowl, a skeleton hand comes out and tries to grab your hand. Needless to say, this fascinates him. While Adam is paying attention to this bowl a person walks up and says hi to Adam. "Hi, my name is Chris. What is your name?" Adam doesn't hear him or see him. All he can concentrate on is that bowl. "Why doesn't he talk to me?" asked Chris. "He doesn't mean to ignore you Chris", I explain. "His name is Adam, he has autism, and he doesn't talk." "I know", says Chris. "I'll make eye contact with him. He'll have to look at me." Chris steps in front of Adam and tries to introduce himself again. By this time Adam has pushed the bowl button, run about 10 feet, turned around, and watched the hand come out. Adam was at the height of pleasure. "It's as if he doesn't even hear you", Chris observes. "That has to be frustrating for you", Chris says profoundly. I was a little stunned at this observation. "Sometimes it is Chris. Sometimes it is", as my eyes well up.
Can you guess the age of the 2 people above? The Wal-Mart lady was probably in her early 30's. The Target boy Chris was about 4 or 5. In less than 5 minutes, Chris not only made more sense than Wal-Mart lady, but he showed both Adam and me some kindness. He was seeking to understand. He wasn't upset because Adam was more interested in the skeleton bowl than him. He wasn't upset because Adam was dominating the time spent with that candy bowl. Chris was genuinely interested. Chris was looking to help a brother. Four to five years old, guys. He didn't have a hint of ugliness. Wal-Mart lady was the walking ugly. I expect Chris will do wonderful things in this life. He couldn't have been more kind to us that Saturday in Super Target'.
As I continue to march towards my goal of local awareness of autism, I'm reminded there will be days filled with both experiences above. Don't let the ugliness of some deter you from your destination. Others you encounter may be more educated, but don't let them swat you away like a fly. In a way Wal-Mart lady did me a favor that day. Her utter contempt encouraged me to work harder locally. All I know is the congressman's aide I'm preparing to meet with had better not try to swat me away, walking backwards.
Otherwise, he may see James A. Marshman appear and Mr. Marshman doesn't take prisoners.
Kub and wife Cheryl have been married for 19-years and live in South Bend, Indiana with their 7-year-old son Adam and Cheryl's mom Ginny. We're not only Adam's parents, but we're also his voice. We're not trying to change the world, just our little corner of it.
First of all, How dare she and kudo's to Chris for truely being kind and inquizative. I have witnessed THE WAL MART LADY in action myself in reference to other children, never mine. It makes me sad that people can't take time out of their busy Adult lives to remember, what simply being a child is to begin with. My son who is almost 4 has Autism and is unusually well behaved in stores, it's my soon to be 2 year old that acts up now and boy does he really pitch a fit. I recently had to leave our local Meijer store because he was screaming and crying so bad that I'm certain that they heard it in the parking lot. The greeter even paid for those special kids carts with the TVs in them for my boys to ride in and everything. 2 was still not happy and nothing could be done to make him stop, other than allow him to walk around by himself. Well we all know how that worked!!LOL
My 17 year old Daughter and her friend were so embaressed by 2, that they just walked away, that's how bad it was. So needless to say I took 2 and headed for the car and the girls had Autistic 4 with them. When they reached the car 4 was crying because he had to leave the TV cart and go home. So I guess I would have to say Thank you to the greeter and to all of those people that looked at me as if I was insane, Well get used to it. Because I have an idea 2 is going to make up for ALL that Autistic 4 lacks. I really think they have a little pow-wow before we go anywhere and 4 tells 2, you do all of this when we go out, she'll expect it from me, not you!!LOL
Life is crazy and if people can't give us just a little slack, I don't know what we will do!! I personally have had to listen to other peoples kids scream and yell, throw fits and such and not once did I make a comment (out loud) to any of them! I guess I would have to say, I have more problems with my other kids in public than with my autistic son. Now how funny is that, Really?
Posted by: nikki | November 09, 2008 at 07:38 AM
Kub, I'm writing a story about a boy who doesn't speak, but I need to learn more about it. Would you be interested in writing to me to discuss this further?
How do we connect without my leaving personal e-addr here, which might invite spam or kooks?
Posted by: Milton S. Evenson | November 06, 2008 at 11:11 PM
Kub - keep on writing!! That was great!!
It brought to mind the funniest time I ever had with Annoyed Walmart lady. Well, Ladies, gentlemen and employees as well, actually...
My son went through a phase where he would make his voice do wierd things - not that he speaks, mind you, just "making noises" as most would say to us who know what our kids are saying. He made his voice sound deep, scratchy - almost evil. He also used to say "daddy" but it came out "dah-ee". One day he was on my shoulders in the store and I did NOT go directly to "aisle 7" as YOU know I should have....
He started VIGOROUSLY pulling my hair and screaming at the top of his lungs, with a smile on his face, in a demonic sounding voice that sounded just like - "DIE - DIE - DIE - DIE......" and so on, and so on. I relished the idea that he was saying my name and totally ignore to stunned onlookers for about 10 whole minutes.
I actually went the rest of the shopping trip down random aisles just to keep it going.......... ;oD
Posted by: Tim Kasemodel | November 05, 2008 at 08:51 PM
"Kids' natural naive curiosity is a blessing. They speak so frankly, and often with compassion."
Watching the kids in my son's class, and the entire school, for that matter, I wish that we adults could be as compassionate, understanding, genuine. On his worst day, not one of these kids flinches - they all worry and they all want to help.
God help the Wal-Mart lady if she's in his face about something as innocent as opening a fridge door - and Nick's mom is "in the house..." - the next person that opens a certain fridge could be in for a surprise...
Posted by: Randy | November 05, 2008 at 05:05 PM
As I read this, tears of laughter filled my eyes.
Annoyed Wal Mart lady met my son when he was about 3.5.
Annoyed Wal Mart lady parked her cart next to mine while perusing the isle looking for whatever annoyed Wal Mart lady eats, (besides small children).
When my son tried to squeeze past her, she shifted her considerable weight in an attempt to cut him off, snarling at me all the while, with her best "get your brat outta my way snarl"......and before I could turn into Mr. Marshman , my son did the one thing that worked for him at the time.....the one thing that sent his siblings running for the hills.
He reached into his shorts, whipped it out....and peed on her leg.
I just stood there....confident that any message I might have imparted to Annoyed Wal Mart lady had been soundly trumped.
This was 7 years ago.
Now you know why Annoyed Wal Mart lady... is annoyed.
Posted by: Judy | November 05, 2008 at 12:52 AM
Unfortunately it seems that Wal-Mart lady attends my church. It's quite disheartening.
Posted by: PhillyLisa | November 04, 2008 at 10:29 PM
Rather than opening and closing the frig doors, my son likes listening to the refrigerators at the store. He stops and presses his ear to the refrigerator to hear the hum, while I think, "We should all take the time to stop and hear the refrigerators!"
Posted by: Twyla | November 04, 2008 at 09:16 PM
Thanks Kub. I have met Wal-Mart lady many times. Sometimes she's a woman; sometimes a man. I met the lady Sunday at Brookshires. I was trying to pay for the groceries. I knew Ethan had gone down the way to open and close the doors on the drink fridges. I called for him. Wal-Mart Lady was behind me in the line. Ethan came back and tried to get past her to me, and she DELIBERATELY blocked his way, gave him a nasty look, and said "Excuse you!" He bounced off her like a ball in a pinball machine and went way around. She gave me a dirty look, and then I turned into your father! I've been wondering who that entity is that I turn into when I encounter abject ignorance. Your father's persona comes in very handy. Thanks!
Posted by: Haven De Lay | November 04, 2008 at 08:42 PM
OOHH!!! People like Annoyed Wal-Mart Lady make me sooo mad...Frankly, I think you were too nice, lol. But I tend to be a Hulk myself when anyone dares to venture an unwanted and unwarranted opinion on my mostly-NV, autistic 4-year old.
Like the time we were in the diaper aisle buying size 6 diapers and some 'helpful' lady told me that my son should NOT be in diapers at his age (he was 3 but looked 5)...
Me: "He has autism and doesn't understand when he's dirtied his diaper."
Her: "Well, he should be potty-trained by now." I'm so glad she told me this, because I would never have figured that out for myself.
Me: "Oh, well why don't you come back to my house have have a go at it? I'll sit back and watch." -- Of course, I came up with that last part 20 minutes later, in the car. I always think of the right thing to say at the wrong time. But I’ve added it to my “snappy remark arsenal” the next time a Helpful Stranger comes along.
Unwanted parenting advice is always extra-unwelcome when your child has autism.
Posted by: Julie Swenson | November 04, 2008 at 05:06 PM
Thank you Kub. I've met Wal-mart Lady and Chris both..many times over.
I really hope the Chris's out number the Wal-mart ladies in this world. Our kids need empathy and understanding not harsh judgements by cruel unsympathetic strangers.
Thanks for sharing this with us.
Posted by: Andrea | November 04, 2008 at 04:53 PM
KUB! (Caps added for emphasis ;-)
Where have you been hiding???
What a hoot! You and Harry are *two peas in a pod* when it comes to your wit-and-humor-writing style!
Posted by: Kelli Ann Davis | November 04, 2008 at 03:21 PM
Kub, thanks so much for writing this, and for being so protective of your son.
My dad sounds so much like yours -- at times a tower of fury. You showed remarkable restraint. Me, after reading I think I'll need some Atenolol.
Kids' natural naive curiosity is a blessing. They speak so frankly, and often with compassion.
On Sunday at my workplace, a young teenage boy was laboriously signing our desk log. His impatient dad urged him to go faster because people were waiting. I looked at the dad and said, "My son has trouble with handwriting. He's autistic. He uses an AlphaSmart, or I type for him." The dad became quiet. The son finished and walked away without making eye contact. Hmmmm....
Posted by: nhokkanen | November 04, 2008 at 11:45 AM
I am so sorry you had to endure the evil boundary breaking Walmart lady.
My husband (known for his lack of tack in these situations) would have fired back "I think *you* need ______(fill in the blank with Botox, to lose 10lbs or a full frontal lobotomy.)
We once had a non-verbal son and these hurtful things are heard by little ears.
Over the years we have met those rare individuals that restore my faith in mankind.
Like the man on the plane who unwrapped our Panda bar, in flight to chelation or the camp counselor that took Josh under his wing last summer.
The world is a better place thanks to people like Chris at Target.
I noticed one day eating lunch with Josh at school the kids in his inclusion class seemed to be the kindest and most helpful.
Maybe with prevalence 1:150, to these small children special needs is no longer odd.
Posted by: karenatlanta | November 04, 2008 at 08:40 AM
This was fantastic! I hope you are able to share more stories of determination as you make people aware of autism. You have a gift in writing and a superhuman strength in helping Adam.
ps. I find the ugliest people who 'tsk, tsk' me and my son to be at our own local Walmart too!
Posted by: Cathy Jameson | November 04, 2008 at 08:04 AM
Kub ... thank you for that post. I love how you wrote you are not only his parents but his voice. That's when you got me in tears. So many of us out there ... protecting our kids who are soon to be adults. Thankfully there are little boys like Chris who *get* it. Chris is growing up with so many special needs kids perhaps there will be more empathy from the one's less affected. My so-called NT 6 year old gets pleasure pushing my AS son over the edge at times, knows just how to do it. But in the end, isn't that what siblings do? He can also be fiercely protective telling people be nice to him his brain works differently.
I'm hoping both my sons will have a new appreciation for all the differences, like Chris and be empathetic young men because of what we've been through and continue to go through .. good luck to you!
Posted by: Kathy | November 04, 2008 at 06:22 AM