Friday, September 3, 2010

Just desserts: torte or retort?

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I've been reading yet another mother's lament about nearby patrons being judgemental and rude to an autistic family out for a meal at a restaurant.  After reading several of the sympathetic responses, it came to me: the perfect retort to an ignorant person when they've crushed my soul and flattened my family with a snide remark.  The next time anyone says something rude about my autistic son's behavior, I'll say with an innocent concerned expression,

"Oh, are you autistic like he is?" 

Likely met with bewilderment or denial.  Followed by my,

"Well I see that I've upset you.  I'm used to that with his autism.  My son doesn't have good social skills, gets frustrated and angry easily and often says whatever is on his mind without thinking.  It's so embarrassing when he's rude like that.  I just assumed you must be autistic too since you look just like he does when he's having a tantrum.  My mistake - you must just be a miserable judgemental person instead.  I hope you can get some therapy.  Good luck with that."

This may give them something to think about...or not.  If nothing else, their anger will  focus on me and not my beautiful son.  I'll feel better to model strength for my children.

Of course, this is all simply a fantasy, I'd never be able to pull myself together enough for this type of confrontation.  I've been battling on the front lines for hours, perhaps days.  I'm exhausted and hanging by my last nerve.  By the time someone says something in public, it's after several minutes of stares and comments I've ignored as I struggle to get G under control or smooth his sensory issues over.  My other children give me a play-by-play of other patron's reactions, get irritable and argue with each other, or talk over each other to gain my attention.  I've likely been worn down from an entire day (and maybe all night) of calming, singing, hugging, repeating favorites, whispers, crying, staring off into space.  I likely have nothing at home in the fridge, I'm too exhausted to think about cooking, we're celebrating a special occasion for one of my other children, or maybe I've had the joyful idea to GET OUT of  the house to have a "normal" family experience. 

I'd love a quiet fancy restaurant with soothing music...a place where my sensory-sensitive child might settle down, stop behavior that disturbs nearby patrons. I can't find a sitter because high costs and there isn't anyone who can handle my child.  Besides, he's a cherished member of our family - I simply want him to participate.  I've gone to great lengths to find a suitable venue - cross-referenced through my extensive litany of conditions.  Not a pricey fine dining establishment that I surely can't afford because of outrageous therapy bills, but a family restaurant where I hope we'll fit into the steady din of laughter and clanking dishes.  Somewhere where we can order the odd selections my child eats without creative upsell suggestions from waitstaff.  A non-trendy place without a waiting list so that we can find a semi-secluded table, of course at non-peak mealtime hour.  A booth to "trap" my son on the inside next to the wall so that he doesn't run amok.  This booth should be at the end of a row so that my son can't poke the patron behind him with a fork, close to the restroom for his frequent OCD handwashing trips, yet next to a window so that he can watch traffic and TRUCKS!   Considering entertainment: multiple tv's to focus on, crayons to roll and break, crackers to munch or smash.  A diner with items on the table that he can stim with - sugar packets to count, spoons to spin, menus to look through, plastic condiment bottles to line up, cheap napkins that double for tissues when someone inevitably cries.  An eatery with minimal collateral damage potential: vinyl seats, formica tabletops, tile floors, plastic cups with lids, plastic plates.  A diner clean enough so that when my son crawls under the table to escape I won't be horrified at what crawls back with him.  Someplace where I won't feel too self-conscious in my wrinkled t-shirt, stained jeans, mama-luggage purse, uncoiffed tresses, unpainted nails, un-everything - just a simple swipe of lipstick to adorn myself for confidence.   


I realize that we'll have our meal interrupted when my son gets too out of hand.  I can't remember when a family meal has lasted until dessert, when we'd each pass a spoonful of some luscious chocolate sweetness and lingered over coffee and conversation.   Instead, our family is prepared for quick exits.  We've done this brisk retreat countless times and have a battle plan prepared.  I bark out orders like a general: "You - flag down our server for the bill and some takeout boxes, you - find cash because we can't wait for a charge transaction, you - grab the backpack, you - grab my purse, you - please carry him and take off his shoes so his kicks don't hurt.  Pull up to the door, I'll fill the takeout boxes, handle the bill and meet the car.  You - put on his movie in the car, give him his toy, buckle him up and really try not to touch him or yell."  This only gets more complex, louder when I don't have my husband with me for backup.

I vow on our silent, exhausted drive home to never, never, NEVER go out again, it just isn't worth it.  So with or without a rude interaction with others, we'll go through our own private war regardless.  Hopefully we'll have enough energy or appetite to heat up our meals at home and sit chewing in silence.


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