My brother is an eye doctor. In all his years, he has successfully corrected the vision of thousands of patients. Some with reading glasses, some with bifocals, some with medicated drops or complex surgery.
I’m so often amazed at how many times I’ve corrected my own vision simply by looking at something differently.
I know well a mother whose teenage son is a high-functioning autistic. Great kid. Very bright. Very personable.
Because so many of his challenges are ones I recognize in my own from TBI (intolerance for quick-changed plans, chaos, noise), I have felt a keen interest in his journey. I’ve long assumed it must be very difficult for his mother because of one particular challenge that her son faces.
Like many people who live with autistic symptoms, he doesn’t naturally learn appropriate social behavior. It doesn’t come to him like it did and does to many of us. He doesn’t easily apply or connect that which is inferred or which isn’t entirely, exhaustively covered by laid-out rules he can depend upon.
Because of this, his mom has long known that she must be very specific in teaching him what Society expects and considers within the lines of acceptable, lawful, and attractive behavior. She doesn’t assume he will know or pick up on a hundred different “rules” she teaches him over and over again.
She makes lists and provides him “cheat sheets” of positive steps, guidelines and options that will help him navigate through life’s situations. No detail is too small or overlooked because they know his success and safety depend upon their meticulous attention. While parents of “normal” children tell their kids, “Don’t be mean!”, she’s telling her son, “Do not make fun of someone because they look, sound or dress differently from you. Do not say something to someone that will make them feel hurt or embarrassed, like you think they are dumb or ugly. Do not join in when someone is being bullied, mocked or ridiculed…….”
I’ve long imagined that awful and difficult for her. Just the sheer number of possibilities to cover. I’ve imagined this something to suffer. And now I believe that, perhaps, I was wrong.
Because recently I read of several eye-popping stories that skewed my view of parents with “normal” children. The supposed “lucky ones”. The fortunate. The blessed, if you will.
One young man was angry at his girlfriend so he took a bat to her bunny and bludgeoned it to death. Another was angry at his parents for taking away his video game so he shot them both in the head. Still another shot a teen in the face because the kid wouldn’t give up his shoes and his sunglasses. You hear stories like these so many times that, incredibly, we barely are surprised anymore.
Perhaps no parents can assume anything. Autistic or not.
My parents told me to be nice. They never sat me down and told me specifically that I shouldn’t beat the hell out of a rabbit if I got angry. They didn’t tell me that, if I got angry at them, I wasn’t allowed to shoot them both in the head. I doubt many parents get this specific. I am not a parent but I probably wouldn’t either.
But it sure makes you wonder…How specific must our teachings be?
I dare to wonder how many rapes, assaults, cases of child sexual abuse, physical spousal abuse, animal cruelty and acts of hatred and intolerance could have been avoided if parents didn’t simply assume that there was “no way my child would ever do something like that.”
I’m not accusing all parents. I’d probably be one who assumed the same thing. No one thinks they have to specifically spell out to their kid that, no, you cannot, under any circumstances, shoot a person in the face after trying to steal their shoes.
What can we afford to assume?
Maybe my friend, who has spent her son’s lifetime telling him, item by item, will avert a heart-wrenching disaster she cannot even fathom. Perhaps her long years of tedious attention to detail will afford her a peace that the parents of these recent news-makers will, sadly, never know again.