A few years ago, on Halloween, I was gathered outside some random house of a random friend of my daughter. We were doing a gigantic trick-or-treat meet-up for the kids and there were tons of people on hand. A dad, who I had always liked, came by to say hello.
We made some small talk, marveled at “how big the kids are getting”, and he said goodbye before walking off. The whole time he kept eye contact with me. The problem?
I was standing next to Lucas for the duration of his whole stop-by.
My non-verbal child with autism was by my side and this man, who was pretty cool usually, never said hi to him. He never said goodbye. There was no acknowledgment of Lucas at all. He treated him like a non-issue, undeserving of hello, as he might be unaware of what it even means.
And that left a bad taste in my mouth.
I know, I know. People will definitely take me to task for it. I should have said something. Maybe nudge Lucas to wave, but I didn’t. Might I do that today? Perhaps. It depends on my mood. That’s not the point.
The issue is that person not acknowledging my son at all is part of a bigger picture. It really bothered me and, while there are certain ignorances that I do forgive, this isn’t one of them.
For instance, Lucas sometimes lets out a loud shriek. It’s gleeful and comes from a place of excited happiness. That said, it can be terrifying. If you don’t know it’s coming, you think someone just got murdered. In the middle of the night, it can be bone-chilling. Hell, it can be bone-chilling at noon.
So, when he does that shriek in a setting where strangers, unfamiliar with him, might be present, I don’t get offended if they jump. Even a look would be okay. I get it. I’m not offended. I can imagine my reaction if I was in their shoes.
There are many things I can wrap my head around, but not saying hello is not one of them. To me, it’s the most basic form of human interaction and, to not do so, is to not treat my son like a human.
Does he understand what “hello” means? Yes, he does. But, I’m going to be honest with you, sometimes he doesn’t show it. Whether or not he “gets it”, isn’t the point. That’s not why you say hello to people. You say hello because it’s courteous. Be courteous to my son.
They do it to babies. They do it to pets. They do it to everyone. People will reach down to pat a baby on the head or pet your dog and give them a sweet, “hello there.” It’s almost hardwired into us. It’s something we do for everything with a pair of eyes. It’s pretty much part of our social contract at this point.
If you don’t have a child like mine, you might think I am overreacting. I can understand that thought. I’m not, though and others with similar kids can back me up.
If I can give one piece of advice to any person who is friends with a special needs family, it is this: Say hello and say goodbye to the special needs person in that family. It doesn’t matter if you think they will wave back, remember who you are, or even care that you say hello. You have no idea until you do it. Give them the respect you would want someone to give any loved one in your life. Your friends will appreciate it more than you realize.
When my son was a toddler, he sneezed and I called out “bless you.” My daughter, around 5 at the time, asked me why I did that. After all, he didn’t understand.
“Lucas understands some things, right? There was a time when we had to scoop him up to bed. Now we tell him it’s time to sleep and he comes right up. He started understanding that one day, but we don’t know when. He couldn’t tell us. He didn’t get it for a long time and then he just did. It’s the same thing with “God bless you”. I’d hate to think that one day he understands that people say that after someone sneezes, but no one says it when he does. That would be sad for him. You know?”
I always remembered that exchange. It taught me just as much as it taught her and became the blueprint for how we navigate life with my son. He is a member of the family in every sense of the word. He is respected and he is given the same courtesy we all want.
If he’s on his iPad and we’re watching TV, we make sure he can still hear it over our show. If we order something good to eat, he gets something too. We share our life and we share our love with this kid. He doesn’t get the short end of any stick.
And that’s why he deserves a hello. Will he wave back? Probably. Nine times of ten, he does. But even if he didn’t, I’d still want people to do it anyway. Saying hi to someone isn’t only done to get one back. It’s to show them you’re happy to greet them. It’s to acknowledge them as part of the social circle you have just joined.
It’s the right thing to do.
You must be logged in to post a comment.