I've told this story a lot over the past two days, because I feel like it parallels other things going on. I know this is cryptic, and I'm sorry, but it's going to stay cryptic. Suffer along with me while I say that the story requires no background and it's just as instructive as it would be if you had background. It's just a story about a day I was insensitive, but nothing really came of it...except a realization of insensitivity and a desire to do better.
My wife and I took Lily to Chuck E. Cheese. I won't say which one, it's local, but if the Target thing has taught me anything, it's that I need to be discrete because some people may not love the spotlight in quite the way I seem to love it. It was a little boy's birthday party. Lily's teacher and the classroom aids were there to help facilitate things...and to enjoy the time with their kids as well. It was really cool from that perspective, but that's not the story.
We approached the gatekeeper (CEC has a guy who stands at the door and stamps parents and their kids with an invisible stamp that they scan upon departure to make sure the kid with you matches the stamp...) for admittance. He stamped our hands. I don't remember what my wife said to him. It was "harmless". She asked him for something. Let's say she proposed that he stamp her left hand instead of her right because she was holding Lily's hand with the other. I don't think that was it, but it was something like that. The kid froze. Literally a deer in the headlights.
"Did you hear me," she asked? He froze again and we stood there...getting irritated. What the hell was going on?
He filled in the missing information, "I don't handle conflict well."
And this is where I'm frustrated with myself as a human being...we CHALLENGED him on it. "It wasn't a CONFLICT...we just asked if you could stamp the other hand."
And he froze again.
Are you kidding me? The boy tells you he has a problem with conflict...so you get into a conflict with him?? We didn't get it. We tried to use our allistic NT brains to interpret it and it did not intuitively compute. How dare this kid imply we were getting into a conflict...let's ....um...fight with him about it?
That's at the heart of the issue then...a lack of understanding...even empathy. I think this failure to immediately understand somehow generated this...fight mechanism. Like my failure to understand was somehow his fault. How dare he say something that is so clearly bullshit...I mean...we didn't even do anything. And that emotional response based on ignorance or misunderstanding sets the wheels in motion, trading emotional blow after emotional blow, each side getting angrier at the other. Or it could.
In the case of the kid, the second time was enough for us to figure it out...to back off...to "believe" his disability. When someone speaks/writes well, makes his/her points clearly and effectively, we sometimes forget invisible disabilities that make conflict...or sarcasm...or jokes or whatever...hard to understand or process. We just assume they think the way we think...and not thinking the way we think somehow implies they think we think wrong! But they don't. And we don't. It's just different. Sometimes different means stopping and giving extra time to process, like when I try to count to three in my head after I tell Lily to do something, because sometimes it doesn't immediately sink in. Sometimes it means changing tacks, or retracing steps, or apologizing and backing off. And the thing to do then is NOT attack. NOT accuse. NOT assume. The thing to do is to stop...and process. The thing to do is try your level best to empathize. The thing to do is take him/her at his word. "I have a difficult time with conflict."
"Oh! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make that sound aggressive...I don't know what the policy is. Are you able to stamp my left other hand instead of the right?" Maybe that would have been a better approach?
The thing I found most galling about the whole exchange was that we try extremely hard to be the nonjudgmental supportive human beings that being the parent of an autistic little girl has helped us become and we muffed it.
I still make mistakes. And I still hope to learn from them. I'll probably make this one many many more times in my life. But I'll try not to. And I'm sorry for the people who have to suffer through my learning process.
|Lily drives...Chuck E. rides shotgun.|