There’s nothing like a crisis to show you who your friends are and who amongst your family will support you unconditionally. If you’re like me, and by that I mean a hundred miles of bad road who was apparently born under the Italian curse of the malocchio, then you’ve had your share of rough patches to weather. And you’ve been through enough to know that the members of your support system tend to revert to prescribed roles when you need them most.
Continuing my Autism Awareness Month theme for April, I’ll use as an example the period in my life when my daughter was getting her diagnosis to illustrate:
I will hope for your sake that this person is not your spouse. Unfortunately for me, it was. Our daughter wasn’t just autistic, she was severely autistic. She wasn’t just speech-delayed; she was never going to talk intelligibly. She would never attend regular school or live independently. She’s not making any progress. The therapy isn’t working. There must be a dead relative who’s out to get me. That last one might just be specific to my husband.
This is usually a clueless, elderly relative. She’s what? Artistic? Well, isn’t that nice. She must take after my Great-Aunt Rose who used to make the prettiest paper mache birds. What? Autistic? Never mind.
The Clipping Service
What? Autism? How do you spell that? I’ll get right on it. This person is the eager beaver who proceeds to throw themselves into reading any and every little thing they can get their hands about the issue at hand. They mean well, but their sources are usually limited to local newspapers and waiting room magazines. You can expect to get lots of articles ripped from the pages of Redbook and Readers Digest, as well as notifications every time The View or 20/20 features the topic. Exactly how old will my daughter have to be before people stop sending me articles with titles like “The Ten Early Warning Signs of Autism”?
This is usually a crotchety old fart who never thinks there’s a crisis…unless it’s happening to them and involves something really earth-shattering like the teenager next door squealing his tires. Autism? Never heard of it. In my day, they were called brats. They just need to be smacked around a little. Send ‘em to my house for a week or two. I’ll knock the “autism” right out of them.
This is usually a sister or sister-in-law who thinks you’re just putting on a big show to steal attention away from them. There’s nothing that you can bring up that your autistic child does without her saying that her kids did or do the same. Of course, she cherry-picks behaviors that typical kids share with autistic kids. Watching the same video over and over? Madison watched The Little Mermaid a thousand times. Picky eater? Check. Doesn’t follow instructions? Double-check. Tantrums? Oh, YEAH. Your kid smears her poop all over her hair and the carpet? Ethan did that once. How old was he? Thirteen months? My kid’s almost four and has done it twice a week for the past three years. Checkmate. Wait a minute. What are we competing for exactly? Oh yeah, I get to have a special needs kid and you are stuck with your typical ones. Take that!
No matter what the crisis, it’s clearly your fault. For her, autism is just the latest euphemism for bad parenting. The only difference between your child and hers is that hers have the benefit of her superior parenting skills. She subscribes to Parents magazine and took a series of parenting classes at the community college. Her perfectly behaved children are present for you to stand in awe of as living testaments to her skills. God, she is insufferable. You hate her so very, very much, and find yourself irrationally rooting for her kids to turn out to be strippers. Or morbidly obese. Or morbidly obese strippers.
I’m sure that there are many more than this in your life, and others that are specific to each situation: The Saboteur, The Know-It-All, The Bureaucrat, The Head-In-The-Sand-Man, et al. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a Don Draper in this cast to hand me a snifter of something large and dark and tell me that everything is going to be alright.