Sharing recipes, crafts and frugal living, the challenges and triumphs of parenting a neurotypical child and a child on the Autism Spectrum. Yoga Instructor said goodbye to her nightly glass of Chardonnay to give up habits that were not serving her purpose in life! The CocktailMom name remains, however with a new focus on healthy and authentic living.

11/08/2010

Ignorance

Something happened this weekend and I can't seem to shake it.
Still days later, I'm replaying it in my mind and wondering how I could have dealt with it differently, what could I have said, how do I react in the future when this happens again?
I was at a dinner party, thrown by my dearest friend who invited some women that she is friends with while I was in town visiting her. A lesbian couple.
The food was fantastic, and up to this point the conversation was clicking along. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. And then one of the women, whom we will call Tara, begins to tell a story about a friend of theirs who is autistic. I may have scooted closer to the end of my seat, a sure sign of being engaged and interested in what she had to say. Head tilted slightly, smiling encouragingly in their direction. And then Tara begins to mock and make fun of their friend and her ritualistic routines and lifestyle. I feel as though I've been struck in the stomach. This is not where I thought the conversation was going. I'm at a loss of words and trying to find a way to interject and warn them to shut up because they are breaking bread with a mom of an autistic child! But I can't make words leave my mouth and Tara won't stop talking for anyone to interject. And then my dear friend who is hosting this party finds the moment to say "Gretchen's oldest son is on the spectrum and he's really great and...."
Tara doesn't get it and she continues.

I feel so stunned that I'm concentrating on not crying because I'm the type of person that can either go to tears or yell in these moments when I feel like I've had the wind taken from me. I start to explain how awesome Logan is and that his routines and styles of learning are fascinating. I explain how Logan was obsessed with Thomas the Train and how I used that to teach him about actual trains and the routes they take and geography. And she mocked me and continued to make fun of autistic people to my face and it seemed to go on forever but I'm sure in reality it only lasted a few minutes. My friend thankfully stopped the conversation and shuffled them outside for a cigarette while I gathered dishes and began to wash them while crying in the kitchen and downing a glass of wine. Or two.

And I don't know what angers me more...the things Tara said or that my friend didn't warn them that this is a hot button topic for me or that she even has to warn a lesbian couple to not make fun of other people.
Or that she didn't stand up for me the way I had hoped she would.
Once the party was over I confronted her about it and she apologized profusely, as any adult would and agreed that if she invited a friend over that was physically disabled she would have warned her guests but that she feels like Logan is doing so much better and she doesn't think of him like that.
She kept saying that.
And sure Logan is doing great! He's making huge strides. But that doesn't discount all the work that goes into it. He's always going to be autistic. Just because he's not having huge public meltdowns anymore doesn't mean that he's not finding this world difficult to function in. It doesn't mean that my job is any easier in being his parent.
I'm really trying to concentrate on how this scenario could have played out differently. What can I do in the future? Because I know that this will happen again, I'll meet another ignorant person who is judgmental and uneducated about autism and though I want to be an advocate for my son I can't stand when I am in situations where I have to explain him and justify his actions, I feel as though I am trying to sell them something.
Maybe it is as simple as excusing myself, removing myself from the situation.
Maybe I can't be the token autism mom and enlighten everyone that I come across.
I do however hope that in the future my friends will also choose differently.

8 comments:

Dannielle said...

I love you. I have ten million things running through my head, but they are jumbled up and unable to come out in a coherent string at the moment. All I can say right now is, I love you! We'll talk about the rest later.

annasoc said...

Oh Gretchen, I was so saddened to read this. I wish, instead, that I had invited you to come along and see "Speechless" with me at the Community Center, which was this beautiful and poignant dance theater piece about Angella Foster's developmentally disabled cousin who has to find a different way of communicating because she doesn't use speech. The piece was so beautiful and heartbreaking and poignant that I am still thinking about it. This Tara person was just plain ignorant and so deep in her well of ignorance that she wasn't even able to be enlightened when you offered to show her another perspective. Knowing you has certainly taught me a lot about autism and what it means to raise an autistic child. You do the best you can, one person at a time.

Madmother said...

Okay, I preface this with a disclaimer as I am angry at EVERYTHING right now.

What would I have done? If I tried to interject and she reacted by belittling my child I would have let rip.

"Excuse me? How on earth do you classify yourself as a friend of hers? What sort of person talks about a so-called friend in such a derogatory and discriminatory way? With your lifestyle choices you must face people doing exactly what you are sitting here doing now - mocking and deriding something in a truly ignorant and quite honestly offensive manner. Thank God my child with ASD has more social skills than you are displaying."

Mind you, if I was really fired up I'd probably add : "Do I ask you both if you had a natural appetitie for anchovies when younger?"

ARRRGGGHHHH - people like that piss me off SO MUCH.

I did mention I am angry right now, didn't I?

Odie Langley said...

I too am sorry you had to endure that treatment and hope it will not happen to you ever again. People can be cruel and go about their cruel ways like it is just fine not caring who they hurt. Sorry it had to be you my friend.
Odie

morninglight mama said...

Oh wow, I'm horrified by this experience. Any decent person would have realized their poor form at first mention, so obviously this Tara person was not only ignorant about Autism, but seems to also be completely lacking in any social graces. Sadly, I don't think you could have educated her, because she just wouldn't have heard you. I'm so sorry you had to experience this.

Anonymous said...

First thing Gretchen, this Tara person is having issues with herself. It shows that she has to downgrade somebody. There is differently something WRONG here that we don't know and by her action I don't want to know. Also Gretchen you might not know it but you do enlighten people about Autism. By your articles here and how people see Logan. You are that beacon light that shines for parents that have an Autism child and don't know what to do. Keep up the good work with Logan and don't let this little person Tara or anybody like her stop you and Logan from shinning.
Love, Mom

bullet said...

I guess this episode says a lot about the great strides made in the LGBT movement. They can now be public assholes about other disadvantaged, misunderstood groups of people without fear or shame.

I was near tears reading this, Gretchen. Faced with the same, I don't know how I would have stopped myself from kindly inviting her to shut her fishy pie-hole and leaving the party. Not that anyone would argue to the contrary, but you are clearly a better person than I.

And I'm sure everyone was genuinely shocked, but someone should have come to your defense a little more quickly and forcefully. That will be the lesson I take from this: Be quicker to defend those in need than to meekly avoid conflict.

Maya said...

Wow. This post makes me want to cry. For you. For all of us. How utterly painful.

Stupid. People. Have no words for this.

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