To Tell Or Not To Tell?

Kennywood park is a favorite summertime venue for Pittsburghers who are looking for a day of fun. This traditional amusement park is found in the suburb of West Mifflin, about 10 miles from the city. During my last visit to this local treasure, something unusual captured my attention. Actually, someone caught my attention for a few brief seconds. This individual was an Autistic teenage boy who appeared to be non verbal. I wasn’t paying attention to his awkward, repetitive hand movements. He seemed to have aimlessly walked away from his parents. His white t-shirt perplexed me. This simple message was clearly printed in dark blue and all capital letters.

I have Autism. Please be patient with me.

Directly underneath those words, I saw the Autism awareness ribbon. I am actually quite surprised that I do remember this. I only saw this boy for about 5 seconds. He didn’t wander off too far and he was quickly reunited with his mother. I am willing to believe that a good number of people who display these ribbons are not the “Jenny McCarthy type,” if you know what I mean. However, I just could not stop asking myself the question. Why would a parent want to reveal their child’s diagnosis in such a “loud and clear” way? This is the first time I have ever seen such a thing. I pushed the memory to the back of my head until I saw this article from Toronto’s “The Star.” Farida Peter’s son also happens to be Autistic. Each weekday, they use Toronto’s subway system as their method of transportation to and from behavioral therapy sessions for five year old Deckard. The facility is on the other side of the city, and the quickest route is to take the bus, then the train. Seventeen stops combined with one train change equals a very hectic commute. I don’t know what specifically causes her son to become upset, but subway trains and stations are very busy places. They are full of hustling and bustling people who have a schedule to meet. If your child dares to interrupt their peace and quiet on that noisy subway train, their day is automatically ruined. They will make it known in the most insensitive and ignorant ways.

On the bus one day, a lady told her to control him when he was swinging his legs as they dangled beneath his seat. Other passengers have scolded him and then complained “wow, he’s not even looking at me.” Children with autism often don’t make eye contact.

He’s had fits after being knocked over in crowds or being pushed out of the way by passengers clamouring for seats.
Peters had to do something to stop the glares, gasps and
comments, which would only ratchet up their anxiety levels and exacerbate his behaviour.
Farida was desperate for a way to stop all the negativity directed towards her and Deckard.
She taped a laminated sign on her backpack.
My son is five years old and has Autism! Please be patient with us!
I must admit that I am not entirely sure what to think about this mother. This is mainly because I do not know her personally. I shared this article with a woman at my church. She works as an Occupational therapist for children on the Autism Spectrum. She felt this mother was trying to call attention to herself and gain sympathy from the passengers. Granted, I would never allow anyone to force me into revealing my diagnosis in such a way. I strongly disagree with the common practice of labeling those on the spectrum as “low functioning” or “high functioning.” These labels put the child in a box and push us into making preconceived notions about their strengths and shortcomings. Let’s face it, there are people in this world who do not deserve to know about my struggle as a gay man with Asperger’s Syndrome. I know that open expression of these things are bound to make people react in positive and negative ways. But, why would they choose the latter? Granted, I don’t care if people think my differences make them uncomfortable.It’s because they are unhappy with their own lives and will try to take advantage of me. They could internalize their unhappiness by using me to their own advantage. I can certainly identify with anyone who feels concern for this child’s future.

However, there are a few possible explanations why this woman would feel the need to carry the sign. Like the teenage boy at Kennywood, Autistic children do have the tendency to become lost in their own world and wander off. What could happen if he chose to wander off into a restricted area? These areas are off-limits for safety and security reasons. Some spectrum children are unable understand that certain people, places and behaviors are dangerous. Again, it is important not to make assumptions because we do not know the entire story. However, I tend to agree with the notion that she is using this sign to ask for sympathy from passengers. So, how should I determine whether or not someone deserves to know about my diagnosis? With regards to who I will tell and what I will tell them, it is up to me. It is usually determined upon my relationship with the person and how well they treat me.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly does have a dark side that is the exact opposite from its usual meaning. I know not to fear people who appear genuine, but to be aware. In-genuine people insist upon reminding you how great and wonderful they are, but then turn around and act in ways that show they are truly not worthy of our trust. They are enough to drive you mad, if you allow them to do so.