Those of us that receive Occupational Therapy clinic-based services know what a fertile crescent of stories the waiting room is. I'm going to share three stories with you here. I'll save the funny one for last (Full disclosure: that one contains some bad language)
Story #1 - The first time someone used the word "retard"
Jack and I were waiting in the crowded lobby for our therapist "Johnny" (yes, we have a male OT) to collect Jack for his session. Parents and children were shuffling in and out during the transition time. Our OT clinic is amazing. Has an incredible reputation and sees the full "spectrum" of disabilities. Jack was being his usual self, having trouble sitting still, talking about Minecraft (or whatever it was at the time) to nobody in particular, but "behaving" pretty well considering how anxious he was to go "play" in OT.
Johnny collected Jack and I stayed in the lobby. The crowd thinned out and I was left with one woman and her daughter (I'd guess she was about 2). The family was new to the clinic and the little girl, "Sally", had Down syndrome.
The mother explained that to me. Then she asked one of the oddest, yet most obvious, questions. "What is your son in for?"
"My son is autistic"
"Oh. Is he a retard?"
And it hung there in the air for a moment. My mind instantly raced through all the clever and snappy comebacks I had been cataloging in my mind for this moment. Here's what I came up with...
An overwhelming sadness had instantly come over me. I was staring at a mother with little education and seemingly little support who was about to embark on her own journey of raising a child with special needs. I pitied her... yep, pitied. Her road was not going to be easy, and she clearly had little knowledge of the tools she would need to complete that journey.
I've never seen her there since. I hope that she has learned how harmful and hurtful her words were. If she were to read this blog, I would want her to know that I forgive her ignorance. If you ever want to talk, I'll buy you a cup of coffee and do what clearly hasn't been done in her past... listen.
Story #2 - The first time I totally lost my cool and yelled at another parent
I'll start this story with I am completely embarrassed by my behavior. This story does not end with "I told some bitch off and look at how just and righteous I am".
We're well into our session and I find myself alone in the waiting room with another mother. We had made some small-talk.
It is important to know that this story takes place during what we call in my house "The Great Regression", a very difficult time near the start of first grade for Jack. This entire conversation has a lovely soundtrack of the faint screams of a child protesting somewhere off in the distance (mine).
This woman proceeds to tell me about her 8 year-old son who just couldn't seem to get his behavior under wraps. She tells me stories of how foolish the State and School district is because they just won't give him an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis. She explains on and on about how brilliant he is. He reads at a college level (her words) and can solve mathematical equations worthy of MIT (again, her words). The school just didn't know what to do with him because he was refusing to do his work because it was so "beneath" him. He kept telling the teachers and her that. He must be bored. This woman carried on about how hard her life was and how "ignorant" these "experts" were. I, honestly, had other shit on my mind and started to tune her out after about 10 minutes. She had some issues herself picking up the social cues I was giving her by NOT RESPONDING. At one point I even started reviewing the contract I was holding just to hint to her that I was not interested. Didn't work.
And the soundtrack of screams carried on.
So, her child comes out, with a befuddled OT in tow, and says "Mom, I'm above this stuff. She's asking me to write my name and a sentence about a giraffe. Please don't make me come here anymore." And the turns to me and says "See what I mean... they just don't know what they're talking about."
I caught a glimpse of the "work" the OT was holding and, while I have no idea what it really was, noticed it looked like the kind of scientific calculations you would see on a chalkboard in a time travel movie... parabolas and graphics and the such.
The kid was indeed brilliant. Furthermore, the kid walked right up to his mother, looked her right in the eye, and told him exactly what was going on. Told her his feelings, told her his chosen consequences, told her his fears. As I was about to tell her how great that was, how I would pay any amount of money for my child to communicate that clearly with me, how that's not really a sign of Asperger Syndrome and your child is probably just really gifted, Jack bolted into the lobby... screaming.
I managed to gather him up and restrain him...
And this woman kept talking...
"I mean, how can people call themselves experts if they can't diagnose this clear case of Asperger's. You can clearly see it, can't you? What am I--"
I slammed my hand down on the children's table that was next to us, and over the noise of the screaming child I was restraining yelled "LADY! I have real problems"
She gathered her things and quickly left. I calmed Jack down enough to get my OT session notes and head to the car.
I do not know what happened with that woman and her son. Never saw them again. I do know how wrong it was for me to, at long last, interject with an insult. I don't know her life. I have not walked a mile in her Prada heels. She was trying to tell me her story, and I was too selfish to listen. I'm sure they have figured it out by now... maybe jump your kid a couple of grades. I'm certain she's learned by now that Asperger Syndrome is not code for brilliant (like Hollywood would have you believe).
I'm sorry I yelled at you, ma'am. I should have listened instead.
Sometimes, however, some people need to learn when to just stop talking.
I hope you and your boy are well... sincerely.
Story #3 - A funny one to leave on
During "The Great Regression", our family was inundated with the word "fuck", and all of it's lovely forms. Here's a great story I wrote about that here (still my most popular post to date, might I add). This was near the end of the cavalcade of profanity from my boy, long after we had learned that ignoring it was the best way to make it go away (which worked, btw. Jack's House: "Fuck Free for 98 days").
So we are waiting for our OT session to start in an unusually busy lobby. Jack is being suspiciously quiet and reserved. Sitting nicely, with calm hands, and not saying a word... definitely up to something.
After a good 5 minutes of waiting, Jack breaks his silence with,
"Where the fuck is Johnny?"
As I instantly hung my head in shame at his innocent imperative as to the whereabouts of his therapist, I took solace in knowing that I was in a room full of special needs parents. They are going to know to ignore it. They got my back on this one, right?
The room explodes into uproarious laughter. A din that, unfortunately, set off a few meltdowns of it's own. Even drew a "yeah, where the fuck is he?" from a fellow Dad.
Johnny came out to the gather Jack. He was greeted by the sound of uproarious laughter, two meltdowns, a parent arguing over their bill, and someone licking the vending machine...
Or, as they call it in the OT waiting room...