*Emma gave me her permission to write about this.
“How old is she?” a stranger asked the other day as Richard, Emma and I searched the grocery store shelves for Emma’s favorite jam. Emma was bounding back and forth between where Richard and I were standing peering at the shelf where her jam is usually located, to the dairy case, twirling her string and saying things like, “but where is it? I don’t know! It’s gone! Somebody took it. You threw it! Aw sweetheart…”
The strange man then observed, “She’s acting like a young child.”
My first reaction was to move Emma away from this person so she wouldn’t hear any more of his words. My second reaction was to go over to the man and say, “You know, my daughter understands everything you’re saying.”
“I wasn’t trying to be rude,” came the stranger’s reply.
“Yes, but in fact you were,” was my knee-jerk response before walking away. *I’m not proud of this and I know this was an opportunity for a “teaching moment” but I didn’t have it in me.*
Later, Emma and I talked about what happened. Emma told me it hurts her feelings when people do this – talk about her and say things about her as though she couldn’t hear them, or doesn’t understand everything they’re saying.
“I want to disappear when people talk about me.“ Emma wrote to Soma last September. I wrote about that session in more detail ‘here.’
People, usually, do not mean to be rude, they do not mean to say hurtful things about my daughter in front of her, in fact people do not think about what they’re saying a great deal of the time. As my daughter does not protest or respond when they talk about her in front of her, people assume she doesn’t want to or cannot understand. It doesn’t occur to them that she doesn’t respond because the words she’d like to say do not come out of her mouth in the way she intends. Until Emma was able to write her thoughts, people (including us) believed what they thought they were seeing, even though what they thought they were seeing was completely incorrect. In cases like my daughter – seeing is NOT believing.
When people do not speak, they are often viewed as not being able to comprehend things said. People come to the conclusion that if you cannot say what you mean, you must not want to, or you are unable to understand what others are saying. There’s a false logic at work here. Particularly when it comes to Autistic people. When someone is unable to speak, cannot say what is in their mind, is unable to voice their ideas, thoughts and opinions, it does not then follow that they do not have ideas, thoughts and opinions that they would like to express.