Saturday, May 25, 2013

Autism Answer: They didn't like my Kind Around Here

Many years ago, when my boys were still small--one kicking from inside my belly!--and I was less comfortable with myself, Child Services threatened to take my kids away. My oldest son, who was six at the time, had decided to take his brother, who was four--and naked!--for a walk to Dairy Queen. Never mind that we live in the middle of nowhere, eight miles from town. Actually, he had thought of that and so--just to keep them safe--brought the dog. 

Of course, they didn't make it to Dairy Queen. I was going out of my mind searching the property for them. The hiking trails. The pond. I had no idea which direction they had gone! Finally I found them at the end of our country road, about a mile away from our house, where a man was standing near them looking angrily around for a parent. I thanked him, I cried, and for the benefit of the man who's anger made me nervous, I yelled at my kids. 

This incident led to police talks, family service worker talks, and a meeting at our small town court house where I sat surrounded by angry men and women who told me all of the things I was doing wrong as a parent, who tried to blame my mom for asking me to help with my autistic brothers (when in truth she was helping me by inviting me to live with her!) and, when I finally got the courage to argue the truth of their groundless charges, one man looked me in the eye and said plainly,"We don't like your kind around here. So, if one of those kids ever gets hurt out on your mom's property, we'll take them away."

I'll be honest, I'm not exactly sure what my kind is. Canadian? Free spirited? My oldest boys are half Arabian, is that it? The baby in my belly was mixed race, my fiance was black, is that what they meant? My brothers were autistic, could that be it? Kids out of wedlock, did that offend them? I didn't ask for clarification, it was enough to know that being me meant we would be watched closely and openly judged. 

I spent the next year walking around in a fog of stress, afraid to parent my kids my way, and unsure of how to do it theirs. I felt the stares of strangers as pinpricks on my skin and hid away. Eventually I just ran away. Put my kids in the car and with the help of my mom financially, took off. I left my new husband. My kids left school. I stayed away only for a couple of months, but I used that time wisely. I got back in touch with my kids and with myself. I got comfortable parenting while away, knowing that the eyes watching were not those of the people watching only to see the wrong. 

When I came back home I felt different. The social workers kept calling but I was no longer unsure of myself. I think they felt the difference, because then they changed. Eventually, I made friends and got comfortable in the town. Eventually, my boys joined clubs and sports teams and became part of this town and it's story. Eventually, my brothers got licenses and girlfriends and some even moved out of this town as independent men. 

Sometimes I wonder who changed who. Sometimes I wonder if being told that they don't like my kind encouraged me to discover who I was so that I could make sure that at least I liked me. (Though I am certain there are kinder ways to encourage self-discovery.) Or did I instead surprised them into learning that they actually can like my kind? Or was it--and this is most likely--a combination of both? 

I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that being told 'my kind' is wrong or bad, hurt. I became afraid to try. I wasted time trying to be something I'm not--without fully understanding what I should be--in order to please others. I became uncomfortable with everyone in my world, even my own fantastic children.

That's not okay. Let's never tell anyone, with our words or actions, that we don't like their kind. That memory is strong and scary and I have never been so uncomfortable and afraid for so long in my life. Yet, that was nothing compared to what my autistic brothers have gone through. And so very many others who are gay, have special needs, a certain religion, colored skin, political views etc.

It isn't necessary to be friends with everyone, or agree with everyone, in order to create a world of acceptance. But it IS necessary to accept everyone. Reach out and help when you can, and always accept. 

They didn't like my kind around here. But now, many of them do. 

Hugs, smiles and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)