Travelling with a child who struggles with autism can be challenging. As a parent of an autistic child you have to be ready to expect the unexpected. Some days will be great for your child – he or she may say their first word, point to an object they greatly desire for the first time, or simply show you signs that they are aware of your presence as well as the world around them. My three-year-old son has many of those wonderful days of achievement and those memories are the ones that I cherish.
But then there are those challenging days – the days when he wants to explore the world (regardless of the dangers) by running around when he should be sitting (and might I add he is fast for a three-year-old) or screaming when he is frustrated or unwilling to cooperate with the rules mommy and daddy have given. His tantrums in the home although difficult can be contained and tolerated. The only people affected at home are his family members and we are all accustomed to his lack of communication skills. However the toughest struggle comes with dealing with him in public; rather, dealing with other people who are not familiar with autism.
Originally I planned to write my blog about the intricacy of planning a weeklong vacation to Disney World with a six-year-old and a three-year-old. However that plan changed when I travelled to a local library here in Jersey City, NJ yesterday with my two children in tow. When we entered the library I immediately noticed there were neither children nor parents curled up with a child in the children’s book section. In fact, the one story room library was filled with adults who were enjoying the uninterrupted quietness and computer access. With this being my first time visiting this library, I had no idea what to expect; and as I entered the quiet room I became uneasy with how my son would react. I knew we wouldn’t take longer than ten minutes to find books for my eldest son. But once we reached the children’s section my little one reacted: He was on the go…
I had to stop him twice from going up the stairs to the staff area and because he was adamant about running he screamed once I stopped him. He’d quiet down every minute or so and read (more like hum) a book, but then he’d get frustrated and start to cry. Within a matter of ten minutes the librarian told us to leave…
My emotions drifted from empathy, to anger, to…sadness. First as I hurried my son along to check out his books I sort of understood that these adults were probably annoyed by my son’s actions. After that initial reaction, I became angry with the librarian. She didn’t approach me inside the children’s book section to ask me to leave, or apologize for having to ask me to leave because of a complaint; nor did she care of my reaction. She stood on the outskirts of the children’s section as she “nicely” inserted that we needed to leave. It was as if she wanted the people in the library to know that I was being asked to leave. She spoke softly as if trying to not sound rude or condescending, but that didn’t matter to me. I was saddened by the fact that my son couldn’t enjoy himself at the library because of his disability; and I was also saddened by the lack of awareness and compassion others have toward children who struggle with autism. I didn’t inform the librarian that my son had autism and she didn’t seem to care about us rather than everyone else in the library. I’m not sure if that information would have made a difference. At that moment all I thought was that there is a lack of inclusion and acceptance in a place synonymous with kids – the public library. And I’m not saying that the librarian didn’t do her job – she did what I assume she felt needed to be done: protect the quietness of the library so that the adults did not lose focus while alienating a woman and her two children. She made me realize that the next time I visit the library with my children I need to stop the librarian and ask, “does this library accept autistic children?”
So as I prepare for Orlando I will continue to expect the unexpected and try to envision the sheer happiness my children will feel once they step foot into Magic Kingdom!
See you in two weeks: 8/19/11