10/09/2010

Portraits of Autism #8

I was thinking back on that little boy who left and I remembered that some days, he used to come to the centre with his grandfather.
I see quite a few grandparents at the centre. Some aunts too, sometimes and 'Abla', that is, a big sister, or a woman carer/child minder. Mostly at the weekend it's mothers and fathers - in roughly equal proportions, surprisingly (for in Turkey, women still bear the brunt of the childcare). But during the week, most parents can't get away, so they send a relative.

It's wonderful to witness the older relatives' acceptance of autism. They're grateful for their grandchildren, and they don't care that they're a bit funny. They're happy to be a part of their lives, and to be helping them. Or sometimes, they just seem not to notice that there's anything unusual about the children around them. They're just a bit tired, glad to be able to sit while their grandchild is taking a class, glad to accept a cup of tea, and eager to go home afterwards. It's tiring hanging out in a waiting room full of autistic kids and their worried parents. It's tiring to get there with a child who's unpredictable at best.

But the grandfather of the little boy I talked about last week, the one who didn't enjoy coming to the centre, was not like that. He was not tired and he did not feel easy about his grandson's condition. He was a clearly an educated upper class person, who must have been important professionally at some point in his life. You could tell that from his demeanour. He spoke French, so we chatted a few times. Never about the boys, or autism, but always about life in Turkey, in France, or in the States where his grand-son had been born.

He was kind to the boys - lovely to Max always. But when his grandson behaved in any way that showed off the fact that he was autistic, the old man's response was snappy. Stop doing that. Stop that noise.
What always came across then, was his embarrassment. He did not want the boy to be autistic. He did not want him to be any less than beautiful and brilliant, and got angry whenever he showed signs of being in any way different.

This memory adds to the general feeling of sadness I have whenever I recall the little boy who sat so still, and his lovely but clearly depressed mother. I wish with all my heart that they have been able to dispel some of their fears, and that they can enjoy their little boy as he is, and help him to grow up as independent and happy as he can be.

For all I know, of course, they are very happy and always were. You don't exactly see through people in a waiting room. What you do see, perhaps, is the possibility of what life could be like. And I think I expected to see a lot more of that: people who have trouble accepting their child's autism, people who are depressed because they can't see any progress. But for the most part, what I do see, is just the kind of everyday cheerfulness and getting on with life attitude that I see whenever I am with parents of young children, autistic or not. I keep forgetting this simple truth: special needs parents aren't 'special'. They're just like you and me. Oh, hold on. I'm one of them.



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2 comments:

@jencull (jen) said...

I find it upsetting that this Grandfather was embarrassed and uncomfortable with his grandson. On the otherhand, this story has also made me realise how lucky my son is that SO MANY people think he is the best thing since sliced bread :D Jen

Sandrine said...

It is upsetting especially if you think of the impact it must have on the parents, and on the little boy himself. But some people find it hard to accept children if they don't conform exactly to their hopes and expections - so in a way, the autism is probably neither here nor there. I'm very very glad the HRH is loved by all. He probably IS the best thing since sliced bread!

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