I was talking to a friend last night about her children, I don't remember what we were talking about specifically, but The Look came up. Ah, it was potty training. The Look over how long you allow your child to soil their pants when any self-respecting, actively involved parent would have already taught their child to use the toilet.
I remember those days. The days long ago when, in the eyes of the world, Alex was just a naughty child who needed a firm hand.
I know how infuriating The Look can be but I just had to laugh. I've been many places in our 11 years of living the autism life, learned a few things along the way. One of the things I learned is that, for some, The Look doesn't last. A man I read frequently and admire more than most wrote a post I just had to go get for her. It's called The Day the Music Died. He explains it wonderfully, how maddening it is to hear "all kids do that,"
...until you stop hearing it.
And then you miss it. When it becomes more and more obvious that your kid "isn't quite right," they stop judging you as a pathetic and lazy parent with a little monster on your hands and it becomes more and more obvious that this isn't going to go away and it becomes more and more obvious that your child will never be "normal." Each time that no one says the words, each time you don't get The Look, leaves this void where the words or the judgment should be and knowledge of what is vs. what could have been fills that space until your heart wants to shatter along with all of the broken dreams and crumpled hopes that used to be your child's future. You understand that they see what you have always known- no, all kids don't do this. No, it's not bad parenting. The silence is worse.
...until the day you stop hearing it.
Saturday night, Alex ran wild with his brother in the store. Well, as wild as one can be with constant supervision, within arm's reach, and wearing a seatbelt. Standing at the counter, my husband checking out, a line lining up, I'm talking to Alex, "Did you run off with your brother!?" "Did you go without me!?" "Did you cause trouble!?" "Was it fun!?" With each excited question, Alex got more and more excited, kicking his feet in his stroller, a huge smile on his face and excited squeals and happy giggles responding to me. I looked up from talking to him and I saw a new look. Not one of judgment, not one of pity... it wasn't a look of understanding or tolerance, I don't know that I can give her look a word but she saw him. not the naughty child, not the poor disabled kid. She saw Alex as he is and she was happy to see him happy. She seemed pleased to share his joy just for a few moments, no matter how unconventional the reason for it. Different, not less.
...maybe that's what acceptance looks like.