We took Alex to Suson Park. He was so good. so good. It was a mostly silent trip, neither one of us in the mood for chatter. We just wanted quiet. a peaceful walk. We walked here and there and everywhere, Alex leading the way to new places he wanted to see. We enjoyed the quiet. We checked out benches and trees and looked at fish and geese. He did scare me with his gentle insistence on wandering into the creek but he eventually took no for an answer and we walked on. It was a nice walk. except for the fact that with every step we took, all eyes were on us. All. Eyes. I know this because with the mood we were in, this easy wandering, I was able to glance around as we walked. There was nothing to look at, nothing that identified us as different; he wasn't wearing a harness, we didn't have the stroller, he wasn't stimming in any way, we were both dressed appropriately, and I even brushed my hair today. No, they weren't looking at the spectacle we were making of ourselves, they were looking at Alex being his magnificent self. I know I shouldn't be offended, curiosity and all that, but damnit, I'm so tired of my sweet baby being the freak show that draws the stares of everyone around him no matter what he's doing- or not doing- yes, he's amazing but not amazing in the way of the Bearded Lady. I want to scream at them to go stare at the 3 year old throwing a fit and just leave us alone to enjoy our outing. I don't want looks of "understanding" giving me permission to take my son to the park, or looks of "approval" because he passed some behavior quiz you were silently giving him. I appreciate the sentiment and I understand your motivation but he's an 11 year old boy, same as any other, just as interesting and uninteresting as any other.
Then, what I was most afraid of, the reason I stuck 5 of my blogging cards in my pocket before leaving the house, we got The Look. The autism-is-not-an-excuse look, the he-doesn't-belong-here and you-should-know-better look. Not because Alex was bad or wild or licked anyone but because he walked in front of someone. Didn't touch him, didn't even look at him, just stepped into the path the guy was planning on walking and he had to hesitate a step to give Alex his personal space. I wanted to call him out on it, I wanted to scream that this was a playground, a playground for children to run and play on and Alex, being a child, wasn't even running, he was walking over to examine the wall. Fortunately, it was a silent exchange behind Alex's back and he had no clue the guy was a frickin ableist douchebag. But I did. and I knew there was no point in engaging. so we walked on.
Once Alex walked the whole wall, he moved on to the equipment. Alex doesn't swing or climb or slide, he walks and he examines things with his fingers. He walks the wide steps and finds cool places to sit and watch what's around him. Following him (and yes, still several eyes on us) I started taking pictures of the equipment Alex loved for his principal when the frustration hit me.
I check out our local paper when it comes in the mail. I glance through and read the stories that catch my attention. A while back, one caught my attention and ignited my fury. It was the news that my boys' district is spending $6 million on a bullshit auditorium. Every time I read the updates, it infuriates me because this school district is spending $6 million on something that, while it might be nice, isn't actually needed while Alex's school- who serves several school districts, including my boys'- can't get a couple thousand dollars to build a decent playground with more varied and appropriate equipment. The playground they have now is either too advanced or too immature for Alex, the very few things he's interested in don't even work anymore because the equipment is old and worn out. I don't know the politics behind it, I have no clue about financing, I don't know what they are doing to work on it, all I know is what I see as a parent and, granted, I haven't been to Alex's school this summer to see if they have done anything because every time I see it, I get mad all over again at the injustice of it all. All I know is that this feels unfair. It feels as wrong as the apparent social acceptability of staring at the freaks as long as it's a "nice" stare, or passing judgment on what is developmentally appropriate, or even age appropriate, just because someone is different. Different, Not Less. Does he not deserve the same consideration as his typically developing peers? Does his school not deserve even a portion of funding their neighboring schools get, the schools they serve, because ... what? Because of the type of children attending this school? because they "don't know better"? Because our special needs kids are somehow less deserving than the GenEd kids? Our children are children, too. They have wants, needs, and dreams just the same as typical children. If a new playground was just a desire, they would be just as entitled to desire a new playground as the General Education schools are to desire a new auditorium.