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It was a totally harmless comment. We were at the zoo and Slim, my twelve-year-old with ASD, was super excited running from tank to tank at the aquarium talking very loudly.
He is normally a very loud talker anyway.
A mom walked by with her two daughters and said, "Oh my god that kid is loud. I thought you girls were loud, but that's loud!"
She was in front of me long enough for me to say, "He has autism. He is still working on appropriate voice volume."
But I didn't say it. Instead I sent dagger eyes that only her younger daughter noticed and my tongue twisted inside my mouth and I stayed mute until she was far off down the hall and I wanted to run after her and grab her and tell her what I wanted to say anyway.
But I didn't.
And I mentally kicked my ass for it all day afterward.
What she said was true and something that a lot of us moms have probably commented about other people's children. What bothered me more than her saying it to her daughters (as if saying something hurtful is okay as long as it is true), was that I didn't stand up for him. I didn't give an explanation of why he was being loud.
But is being loud okay because you have ASD? Would I be giving him an excuse not to fine tune his social behavior?
It's a slippery slope for me. No doubt, I hate conflict. I avoid it like the plague. I hate to argue, I hate to try to prove my point, I hate to talk over people or be louder or smarter or more convincing than someone else. What if I'm wrong? What if the person never sees my point of view? What if the other person is louder or smarter than me? What if I cry?
I hate the tightness in my throat, the pit in my stomach, the way my heart races, and the sound of blood pulsing in my ears.
But I hate even more that I am not teaching my sons by example.
Hubby and I always tell the boys to look out for one another, stand up for their brothers, and speak out if someone is mistreating one of them. How will they know how to do that if they do not see it happening? Actions speak louder than words.
We are having a problem with some of the neighborhood boys not being nice to Slim. I was outside one day when I heard the boy across the street say, "No, Slim, you can't play. Go home, Slim."
Shocked and unable to think how to react, I looked at the ground and pretended to feed the dog a treat. Why couldn't I say anything? Is it because I have to be neighbors with his mom for the next two decades? If my kids are being jerks, I would appreciate knowing. I would THANK you for telling me. How are his brothers supposed to stand up for him when his mom can't??
There are many times I stew over comments about his behavior, I keep quiet to a teacher I should speak up to, and I shoot angry daggers at mean kids and rude adults.
I'm too emotional. And when I'm upset, it comes out wrong. One day last summer, we were at the swimming pool. Slim was excitedly running from one group of kids to another, talking loudly and trying to make friends.
A group of boys about his age were laughing at him, and one started saying, "What? I can't hear you." Every time Slim would start to speak again, this boy would yell, "What? I can't hear you!"
I watched over the top of my book, my eyes tiny burning slits under my sunglasses. I waited for Slim to speak up for himself. I waited for his brothers to come to his rescue. None of this happened. Finally, I put my book down and walked over to the boy.
"Would you please stop being mean to my son? He is just trying to make friends." The boy lowered his eyes to the ground, but a smirk remained on his face. "He just talks loudly sometimes, and you are being rude."
He apologized, and I scolded him in my pissed-off mom voice. I never told him that Slim has autism. Why should I have to? Why should that be an excuse for anyone to be nice to him? Would it even have made a difference?
I certainly didn't like the way I spoke up that day, but at least I did it. And honestly, I need to keep doing it. I need to keep doing it until I find a way that does not have tears behind it, that is not scolding or angry or accusatory. A way that doesn't make excuses, but explains and teaches, empathizes and understands.
Maybe I'm no good at standing up for myself, but I'll be damned if I don't teach my kids to stand up for themselves and each other.
What advice do you have for me? How do you stand up for your kids without going all "mama bear" or crying or losing your sh*t? Please tell me in the comments.