Diversity in public spaces is important. Going out in public spaces can be hard most of the time. My 8 year old gets excited and sometimes overwhelmed. He stims by jumping up and down over and over. He grabs at things he isn’t supposed to. He asks questions about every electrical/mechanical thing he’s never asked about before. He runs behind sales counters and runs away from us. He bolts in parking lots. There have been times I’ve had to restrain him, which triggers aggressive/evasive/loud behavior. Sometimes he hurts himself, or me. People sometimes stare, they sometimes comment (not typically with kindness), and often divert their attention. I don’t often share about our life with Autism, not because I’m embarrassed but because I don’t want the hard parts of it to feed into the view that Autism is somehow a tragedy (it’s not), even if there are parts that are hard.
It’s not all hard, and it’s not all bad. What I need people to understand is that 90% of the time the the parts that kick our asses is when we try and navigate public/neurotypical spaces with neurotypical people. People that are uncomfortable with people different from themselves. It’s the strangers at the store. It’s the friends that have distanced themselves and their kids. It’s the good intentioned but oh so hurtful suggestions on how to make him less Autistic. It’s the Autism Speaks publications that compares Autism to cancer – meant to be prevented and eradicated. It’s the deliberate choice to believe the one disproven study about vaccinations instead of the hundreds that have disproved it. It’s rejecting vaccinations because the risk of illness and even possibly death feels like a better choice than the false belief that vaccinating will result in having Autistic kids. Most of the time the hard parts aren’t really the Autism – it’s other people. Let me say it again, and let it sink in: the problem isn’t the Autism.
If you consider yourself someone that supports diversity it can’t be limited to race, religion, orientation, etc. If you believe that all lives have equal worth then you have to accept what we call “disability” into the fold. You can’t make snarky comments (even if they’re just in your head) about how that parent should have kept that poorly behaved kid home instead of bringing them into public. You can’t change lanes at the store because the kid in front of you is flapping her hands or making weird noises. You can’t choose conspiracy theories over science “just in case”. Diversity means that everyone gets to be who they are- and still be safe- in public spaces. It means that kids like mine get to take up space in the world learning how to best navigate it without retaliation. Diversity in public spaces is important.