Yesterday, Sam and I encountered a grumpy old man. We were sat in the Health Centre waiting room. There were 4 other people in there too… 2 girls aged about 12-14 their parent, and an elderly man. If you read my blog often, you’ll know Sam has Autism. He doesn’t talk (yet) but makes plenty of noise. We sat down and Sam immediately started to pace the floor, smiling, giggling and making happy noises. (“Eeeeeeee” and “row row row” for the most part).
The elderly man was sat right next to the toy box (despite there being around 20 other empty seats). Sam kept going over to it to look at the books. On about Sam’s 5th walk over to the toy box, he made an excited “eeeeeeeee” sound, and the elderly man snarled, “Shut the f**k up” at him. It wasn’t loud enough for the receptionist to hear (who was around 30 feet away), but the 2 girls spun round and looked as shocked as I did. Thankfully, Sam doesn’t have the understanding to know what the old man said, and he is never told to shut up, so he didn’t quieten down.
I was so shocked by the turn of events, that all I could manage to say was, “Really”? Before bringing Sam in for the biggest hug. (For my own benefit, I’ll admit). We were called through shortly after this (thankfully), and I made a point of telling the dentist what he’d said. She looked appalled too and apologised on his behalf. So… what would I like to say to the grumpy old man……?
Dear Grumpy Old Man…
Dear Grumpy Old Man, yesterday, you spent around 10 minutes in my son’s company. You saw him for 10 minutes of the day – (10 good minutes, at that). Sam was happy. He was making happy sounds. I was fairly relaxed. We were somewhere inclusive. Somewhere his quirks were accepted. We were about to see the special needs dentist. I’m assuming you were waiting to see the podiatrist.
I don’t know what happened in your life to make you think it was acceptable to speak to anyone like that – never mind a 7 year old boy who, quite obviously has special needs. I don’t know whether you were lucid. I’m not sure if you were battling your own demons too. For all I know, you could have been channelling your anger at the voices in your head towards my son. My beautiful, pure, loving, amazing son.
If, however you were just being a “grumpy old man”, I would like to offer some advice. Some tips for the future in case you are ever offended by someone who doesn’t quite tick all of your boxes on how to behave acceptably in public…
Food for thought…
1). Asking politely will cause far less offence and is likely to get you an explanation, as well as an apology for the fact my son’s happiness offends you.
2). Don’t sit next to the toy box! It was positioned as far back in the waiting room as possible – the idea being that children are as far away from the door as possible, freeing up the seats closest to the reception desk and the treatment rooms.
3). Your own behaviour caused far longer lasting damage than my son’s happiness ever will. I came home, and I cried. First, I cried for my son. Then I cried for you and your behaviour. Finally, I cried for me, knowing I’ll be even more on edge every time we are out and about in future. I lay awake for hours last night, wondering if I should have done things differently. Should I have restrained my son in a special needs buggy to avoid him offending you? Maybe I shouldn’t bother taking him to the dentist in future? Should I have said more to you?
The answer to all of those questions – in case you’re wondering is “NO”.
Putting Sam in his buggy would have caused much more screaming. It would have offended you far more, not to mentioned upset Sam in the process. Of course we can’t avoid the dentist – Sam is just as entitled to healthy teeth and gums as everyone else is. Should I have said more to you? No. If I had, I’d have probably burst into tears, and / or shouted at you. Neither of those outcomes would have helped me or Sam.
In a day and age where people are far more inclusive and accepting than ever, your flippant comment really stung. I grew up with 2 special needs sisters. Disgusting comments about them were a fairly regularly occurrence back in the 1980s and even the 1990s. While Sam and I have been on the receiving end of comments and offensive language like yours, it’s (thankfully) a rare occurrence. That means my thick skin has thinned somewhat though. Your remark ruined my day. I’m still upset by it one day on.
I’ve told people about what you said, and the general consensus is I should have said more, given you a mouthful, attacked you verbally and even physically. What would that have achieved though? Nothing. I’m not a violent person. I’m not a mean person. I am the person who buys the elderly lady counting out her change in the coffee shop a brew and spends an hour chatting to her. I’m the person who makes a point of going back the same time the following week to buy her another.
I feel sorry for you, if anything. I feel sorry that you will never experience the love my boy gives to everyone who shows him kindness. You will never feel happiness when my amazing boy gives you a high 5 and looks into your eyes, smiling like you’re his favourite person. You’ll never receive one of his amazing hugs, which I swear have healing powers within them. Do you know what, though? That was your doing. If you’d said “Why is he so noisy”? I could have explained his excitement about the toy box. Maybe I could have swapped seats with you. Perhaps I could have asked Sam to show you what was so exciting in the box. I could have asked him to give you a high 5 when we were shouted through to see the dentist.
So do I feel anger? A little. Mostly, I feel pity. I pity you, Mr grumpy old man. It’s true – I pity your lonely existence. I hope that you find a way to deal with your inner demons and be a little kinder to the next person who doesn’t tick all of your boxes. (You certainly didn’t tick mine, but I didn’t call you out for it). As my Mum always said, “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing”.
I’m signing off now. I hope that if you ever read this, you’ll realise how much your actions affected others.
You can find more Autism blog posts here.