There has recently been much discussion about a blogger (Smockity Frocks) who mocked a child and her grandmother on her blog. The child showed many of the symptoms of autism. A huge stink was raised about how this mommy blogger, this Christian woman could mock a kid with special needs. Of course, the blogger had no idea the child was autistic; Smockity was just trying to be funny. At this kid's expense.
Since this incident, many bloggers have intensified their pleas that people raise awareness of autism, especially in light of April being Autism Awareness Month. I admit to feeling pretty ambivalent about this responsibility. There are times when I am just sick to death of hearing about autism. This disorder does not define us. Other times, I feel like a bit of a fraud. Danny is so high functioning, I can go days without even thinking about the A-word.
I like it that way, because autism is not who Danny is.
Still, I can't deny that it is part of his life. And mine, by extension.
But, this incident with Smockity Frocks has me thinking. A lot. About parenting and judging others and making mistakes. The thing is, what disturbed me most about Smockity's blog post was not that the child she described was autistic. No, what bothered me was that she was mocking a child and judging the girl's caregiver. The fact that she was probably autistic merely highlighted the scathing judgment.
And truthfully what really pained me was I could see myself in Smockity's snarky assessment of this supposedly spoiled child. See, Smockity made assumptions about this young girl based solely on her outward appearance and behavior. She decided after watching this girl for 10 minutes that she knew what was going on.
And I have done this.
I have been that person who judged someone by what they were wearing or how they spoke. I have, on occasion, looked down on people because their kids were so badly behaved. I have made so many assumptions (both good and bad) about people based upon their looks, it shames me to think of it. And I have mocked people under the guise of making a joke, which as my husband points out is the easiest kind of humor, the kind that takes no talent at all.
This is something I am not proud of, and it is something I am working on. And ironically, this is something I hope people won't do to me. I hope that people will give me the benefit of the doubt, as a mother, as a human being.
The Smockity post incensed many parents of kids with autism, because they don't want their kids to be mocked or judged in such a way. One major difficulty with autism compared to some other disorders or disabilities is that it is virtually invisible. Kids with autism look "normal." There are no wheelchairs or seeing eye dogs, no limps or hearing aids. It would be easy to look at a child with autism who is misbehaving and not realize that they deal with a disability on a daily basis. It would be very easy to judge them unfairly or assume their parents are spoiling them rotten.
And parents of autistic kids know this, and perhaps are even hypersensitive to the fact that others are jumping to conclusions about them. I know I am.
We parents hope that people will give us the benefit of the doubt. That they will smile compassionately rather than frown disdainfully when our kid misbehaves. We hope that people will show our kids love and understanding, even when they act in a way that is difficult to understand.
But isn't that really true of all of us? Don't we all have weaknesses that are invisible to the naked eye? Don't we all want to be given the benefit of the doubt? Don't most people hope that others will get to know them rather than basing their judgments on appearances?
Maybe we don't really need a special Autism Awareness Month message so much as a message about love and kindness and tolerance and on reserving judgement. My husband recently posted this to Facebook: "Want to be a nonconformist? Love everyone."
That about sums it up, I think.
For more posts about appearances, visit the Spin Cycle at Sprite's Keeper.