We pulled into the parking lot at the huge shopping centre an hours drive from home. We always have a lot of things to get done when we come here. I was relieved to find an empty disabled parking space. I parked the car, got the permit out of the glove box and attached it to the windscreen.
4 year old MissG asked me, “Why do we park in the space with the wheelchair picture?”
“Because we are allowed to when we have a disability parking permit”
“Why do we have the ‘ability permit?”
And despite her (somewhat wonderful) mistake on the repeating of the phrase, time stood still for me for few seconds.
Autistic is a familiar word to all my children. It is a normal word. It defines certain characteristics and challenges. It is used in every day conversation. It is a reason, but never an excuse. It is nothing to be ashamed of or frightened by. It just…is.
Different is a familiar word to all my children. It is a normal word. It is an accepted part of life. I lost track long ago of the number of times we use different as an explanation….
“Everybody likes different things…. you like to listen to that song all day, but other people want to listen to something else…. so we are going to change the music soon.”
“Everybody needs different things to succeed…. your brother needs more help with maths and you need more help with spelling.”
“Everybody has different strengths…. comparing your progress to someone else’s will just frustrate you… you need to look at how far *you* have come…”
“Sometimes we like to play different games than other people and that is OK…. she doesn’t have to do everything exactly as you want her to for the game to work”
“Everybody’s brain works differently. Sometimes when enough peoples brains work differently, but in a similar way to each others, that way of thinking and doing things is given a name.”
“S/he is doing it that way because s/he thinks differently than you, and that is OK”
I sat in the car, frozen, with my seat belt half off and my door ajar.
MasterL knows he is Autistic. He is quite comfortable to say it. He will tell people. He knows it affects the way he processes information and the way he manages social situations.
He was diagnosed when he was 8. So we told him straight away. In fact we told him before he was diagnosed why we were taking him to see the new doctor. He was OK with it. He had some questions. We answered them. He got on with things.
“She is waiting for you to answer”, my mind nagged. I managed to move myself out of the car and started to walk around to her door.
She is only 4. Will she understand? Has she heard enough of the conversations to really get it? Will she find it upsetting? How do I explain what Autism means to her?
I recall a few of the times recently when I have coached her in social skills, and helped her through sensory overload meltdowns. I remember the carefully chosen words that I use to reassure her, and to help her understand how others are behaving and what they might be thinking. Words that I have planned especially to help her know that even though she is different it is OK.
But I haven’t planned for this yet. I thought I had more time before I would actually say the words to her.
I opened her door. She looked at me. “Why Mum?”
I breathed out.
I held out my hand for her to take as she steps down from the car.
And I say it.
“Because you are Autistic”
She stepped out of the car, ignoring my hand.
“L is Autistic”, was her reply.
I nodded. “Yes”.
“I am Autistic too,” she said. Just like that. Ever so matter-of-factly. No questions. No fear. No worry.
I closed the car. I think I even locked it.
She reached for my hand then, and we headed into the shops. She skipped beside me, singing her own tune….
“I am Autistic….. I am Autistic…. I am Autistic…..”