Friday, July 11, 2008

What Is Autism?

Last night I had one of those deer-in-the-headlights moments that happen every now and again. Usually in the dead of night. I dig down deep, like probing a painful tooth with my tongue, and allow the full weight of the bad moment to descend on me. And then the blessed relief when I realize that it could never happen.

I flew out the door, loaded down with books, papers, water bottle, and car keys, congratulating myself on remembering to return books I had borrowed. It was a potluck dinner/writers' meeting, and I was leaving right on time. Minutes from the hostess's house, it hit me.

The bag containing a couscous salad, veggie tray, nacho chips, salsa, and a delectably warm-right-out-of-the-oven baguette - enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood - was slumbering in my mother's fridge. I had spent the day with her, and in my haste to arrive at the party at 6:00 p.m. on the dot, I had inadvertently forgotten to bring along my contribution.

Quelle horreur! It was too late now. I was already five minutes late, thanks to rush hour traffic. As it turned out, the other guests were gracious, and I even managed to laugh along when someone pointed out the distinct lack of food at our soiree.

It wasn't really the end of the world, of course. No one was offended (except for my wounded pride), no one felt marginalized, and I was able to leave the party still feeling like I was important to these people. As if I deserved to be there, a part of their little community.

This morning I read a newspaper account of a mom who took her family, including her autistic daughter, to a Smitty's Restaurant, and was asked to leave because her autistic child was making too much noise.

For a moment I could feel what every person in that family must have experienced. It was a mere flash, like a lightning bolt to the heart, but...well, that familiar 3:00 a.m. anxiety washed through me.

Those moments in life when you are made to feel smaller than everyone around you, that you don't count, and really it would be more convenient if you weren't there at all. Every child has felt it when they're the last one picked for a team, or the proverbial wallflower, standing at the edge of a dance, feeling ignored and unwanted.

Every member of that family was made to feel smaller than the other patrons in the restaurant.

As if they didn't really count.

In the end, Smitty's stepped up to the plate. An apology was given to the Seymour family on behalf of Smitty's Canada. An emergency staff meeting was scheduled for all Edmonton restaurants, and the restaurant has promised to give sensitivity training to staff members.

"Smitty's Canada also said it would like to work with the Autism Canada Foundation to spearhead a fundraiser for the cause," according to the newspaper account.

This whole sorry episode only serves to reinforce the need "to educate, and positively improve mainstream social attitudes."

"She has to live her life, too, it's a balancing act, it really is," her mom said. "You just get tired of the discrimination, you do. I think our world is ready for this. Racism, sexism is no longer acceptable. I think special needs people need to be accepted too."

Yes, indeed. After all, doesn't everyone want to feel Included, Deserving, Equal, Appreciated, and Loved?

To learn more about Sarah Seymour's organization, All Kids Have Special Needs, click here.

Thank you, Sarah, for creating a wonderful video, entitled "What is Autism?"


Jackie said...

It's still such a shocking story to me, but somehow, I'm not that surprised that things like this still go on.

Although you didnt use my suggestion, you were right, it still flowed easily and grabbed the readers attention! Another great entry! :)

Maureen Lee said...

Jackie, yes, things like this still go on, and since it is completely unacceptable that they occur at all, people are banding together to make the necessary changes in our world.

Thank you for your suggestions before I posted the entry - they were very much appreciated. But after careful thought, I decided that I wanted to end the piece with Sarah's story. For, if it hadn't been for her determination, focus, and courage, no one would have been the wiser.

And thank you, again, for your support, Jackie!

Gordo said...

Maureen, I love your blog. I love the Ideal-Way website too.

For me, each of these two sites are living proof of the wisdom in the quote by Anne Frank:

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single minute before starting to improve the world."

Keep up your much needed good work. Thanks.

Maureen Lee said...

Thanks, Gordo, I always love receiving your feedback - it's consistently uplifting, positive, and thought-provoking!

I like your quote so much I've decided to add it to our blog (under Quotes to Live By).

It's also given me food for thought: stay tuned for a new addition to the blog. (Something along the lines of "Question of the Day"....)

Thanks, Gordo, and have a wonderful day.

Yvonne said...

Gordo got it right, Maureen. I also love your blog and I love the website too. Lots of information and it is always an interesting, enjoyable read.

Keep up your excellent writing for such an outstanding organization, and for persons with intellectual diability everywhere.

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