Friday, March 30, 2007

What Do You Say?

Linda was in the local Toys R Us the other day (along with supermarkets, these stores give her 'Frequent Shopper Supreme Express Concierge Service' due to the six figures of extra revenue she brings into the stores each week) and again was on the line, when the cashier began engaging Grace. "Oh how cute, a pretty princess! Isn't she the prettiest little princess!". Linda tells me this woman has cute-sily verbally accosted Grace several times in the past and this day was no exception. When it came to payment time, Linda noticed one of those scanning donation flyers for Autism Speaks and decided to give. "Oh it's a worthy cause, a very good cause" the cashier said (Imagine the voice of Fran Drescher and you got the idea-r!). Linda says "Yea, I know it's a good cause. My 4 year old has autism and Gracie here is PDD."

Suddenly the air rushed out of the conversation and the women became silent and visibly flustered. So much so that she packed but forgot to ring up two DVD's she was buying (we took this as HER donation for autism). No more princess, no more cutesy comments.

Linda came home and said she was disturbed by the incident. I said "Well, what kind of response were you expecting from her? 'Gee, I'm so so sorry?' ' Wow she doesn't LOOK autistic.'?" In the woman's mind, she was put in the same position as saying "How's your husband?" to someone who just got divorced, lost him to cancer, or is going through some other unexpected trauma. You're stuck for words. "You're better off without him"; "He's out of pain?"; "You know, they're progressing so fast on that" Those lines could get you in deeper trouble than the "How's your husband" line that started it.

It got me to thinking, what response should Linda have given HER? With Autism Awareness Month on the doorstep, we all have a duty to raise consciousness about who our kids are and what we have to do to get them ready for the world. I was trying to think of a one liner, a quick superficial type comment that could resonate with the woman long after Linda left and would hopefully still be ringing the next time her or another parent with an autistic child came in the store. Something like "Yea, some autistic kids might throw tantrums because of the florescent lights, Gracie just tends to repeat entire Dora episodes and is not good with conversations with strangers, but hey, what kid LIKES to talk to strangers!" A little too long but close.

So, I'd like anyone's suggestion for trite, quick and impactful statements to use in the month of April; it may not get us free DVD's but it WILL help get the word out...


The above is a link to the BBC OUCH website and shows
'Ten things not to say to a parent in front of their disabled child'
definitely food for thought.

little bo peep said...

I think what your wife said is sufficient. Obviously, the cashier was surprised to learn that "the princess" was PDD - and your wife already did her part to break stereotypes.

My child doesn't "look autistic" to the average Joe onlooker, either. He does not appear to be disabled in the least, so any comments I get, after I happen to mention his autism, I assume are well intended.

What, exactly, is the purpose of autism awareness, anyway? So that cashiers will know not to make foot-in-mouth comments? To change autism stereotypes? I dunno - I don't really mind if people don't know what autism looks like. How could they unless they really know someone with autism? I know that before my son got dx'ed, I had no idea what autism really was. And how does my knowing now benefit the world?