Were you aware that yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day?
Honestly, I wasn't aware of that until late last night. Because, you know, I was too busy being aware of autism.
Over the last week or so I've found myself cringing whenever Ryan and I go out in public together because his desire to engage with strangers, combined with his, er, peculiar grammatical constructions, thrust our otherness right out front, and sometimes I just don't want the world to be so Aware of us. When Ryan runs toward a stranger at full speed, halts six inches shy of crashing into that person, and shouts either an all-vowels greeting/assault or a full-out "Hi there anywhere yet!," I know I should be pleased that he's trying to interact, but instead I sometimes feel paralyzed by that "omigod, you're embarrassing me in front of my friends" feeling I thought was unique to teenagers.
Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that Ryan has learned that a polite way to start a conversation with a stranger is to offer them a compliment, but I felt a little awkward when he told the UPS guy, "I love your mustache," and more than a little awkward when Ryan told a toddler-toting mom in our building's elevator, "I like your girlie baby."
These are the kinds of candid statements that adults expect from three-year-olds; when they're coming out of the mouth of a fairly tall six-and-a-half-year-old, folks act a bit guarded.
And the younger the stranger, the more openly they express their confusion when Ryan runs up to them and says, "See ya later guys!"
Lately I feel the need to remind myself not to make excuses for Ryan's behavior. Sometimes I'll give Ryan directions in phrasing that's more useful to the stranger than to him; the stranger might find "Sweetie, that's her personal space, let's take a step back" more comforting and disarming than the Ryan-centered directive, "arms distance." I feel compelled in such moments to bond with the victim of the awkwardness, rather than with my own son, the perpetrator of the awkwardness.
In theory, such moments are opportunities to discuss autism with strangers and spread the gospel of tolerance and inclusion.
In reality, sometimes I'm all, like, OMG, this is totes embarrassing.