My almost 12 year old daughter has autism. I write about it quite a lot here, and we’re very open about it at home. As she gets older some things are getting easier, while other things are getting harder. Come to think of it, I found that with my “typical” daughter as she approached her teen years too – but for different reasons.
When my autistic daughter was younger she had a lot of body control issues – meaning her body was often out of control. She had a variety of sensory issues that kept her from being still. We tried many things to help her, and some worked for short periods of time, but she still struggled. She also didn’t have a very good cognitive understanding of body control or the ability to listen or follow even simple directions. She learned what was expected at home and at school, but when placed in a new environment she was completely lost. It made going anywhere a trial for her – and for my husband and me (mostly me, since as my husband says, I’m “on the front lines”).
Once when she was four, we were invited to the home of a colleague of my husband for a special occasion/picnic. I was hesitant about going, but thought since my husband considered this man and (by extension) his wife, “acquaintance” friends, we could try. I made sure to call the wife ahead of time to explain my daughter’s issues – and specifically that even though my daughter was now four years old, they would still need to “baby-proof” for us. My daughter was like a bull in a china shop, and if there was anything at her level that she found appealing she would grab for it and if it was breakable she would probably break it. I said if it was too much, that we didn’t have to come, but this woman was so understanding and insisted all would be well. I “should’ve” known…
When we got there it was ok for about fifteen minutes. The fifteen minutes my daughter was terrified of this new place and these new people and stuck to me like glue. Then she started to warm up and get comfortable – and it was all I could do to keep up with her exploring eyes and hands. And I had found that either our hosts knew next-to-nothing about what “baby-proofing” meant, or they didn’t believe me that it was really that bad, or they just didn’t care about their stuff. I kept trying to move things over her head – only to find they’d been put back when my daughter made her rounds again. The last straw for me came when my daughter discovered a large antique doll in a child sized rocking chair in the corner of the living room. I asked our host very politely if she could move the doll to a place where my daughter couldn’t get it, as I was very afraid that in a split second of my husband and I being distracted, she might grab it and break it. Our host politely refused. What the ever-loving f*ck… I pulled my husband aside and told him that we had to find some excuse to leave as soon as possible. And we did. And we’ve never been back.
So here’s the thing…
I understand that people have nice things even though I don’t. I also understand the desire to display nice things for company. BUT, if you take it upon yourself to invite someone to your home and KNOW they have a special needs child (or even a young “typical” toddler), then it is YOUR responsibility to prepare for that. And if the folks you invite take the time to call you ahead of their visit to tell you exactly what they will need your help with before they arrive – then you should LISTEN. And if when they are actually in your home and discover something you missed in your preparations for them, then THANK them that they care enough about your stuff to warn you. And if you don’t want to do the work to accommodate for them – THEN DON’T INVITE THEM. Believe me, we would rather stay home if our trip out will involve that much stress.
It may seem like a lot to ask, but when you’re hosting a get together you should care about the comfort of your guests shouldn’t you? You try to have a vegetarian option for your friend Isabel, you’re careful to provide at least one non-alcoholic beverage for cousin Joe who goes to AA, you let Aunt Betty park in the driveway because she’s not so good walking distances anymore – then what’s so hard about putting breakables away or out of a kid’s reach?
Like I said, we’ve never been back.