|Image of Mu, a Hispanic presenting biracial four-year-old male|
in a blue hooded coat sitting in a special needs stroller Credit Kerima Cevik
I sometimes don’t know what we were thinking, other than the fact that in this day and age, we should have a right to eat where ever we wanted.
So it was that we found ourselves at a particular location of Atlanta Bread Company on a Sunday for brunch, and Mu was about the age he was in the featured photo above. During these outings, the goal was never to stay longer than he could tolerate. If I saw the early signs that he was not going to take anymore we had a protocol, and that was Nuri paid the bill and packaged uneaten meals while I got him back in his wheels and he and I rolled out of the restaurant and into fresh air asap.
We usually gave him about 10 minutes before his tolerance was up. 15 minutes if the food came out quickly and there were no loud machines or blaring music.
I settled him out of his special needs stroller and helped him prop comfortably in the booth next to me. He was sitting, standing, stimming, vocalizing happily and basically being autistic. We gave our order, Nuri asking for Mu’s food to be brought immediately and spoke quietly, being ready to grab for Mu quickly if he tried to lean over too far or otherwise engage in acrobatics. This was a carefully orchestrated dance of movement, stimming, and conversation, punctuated with occasional parental rescue lunges and replacing Mu in his seat or helping him eat his brunch as it came to our table.
While we were eating on this day, we were subjected of course to gaping stares, particularly from one stylishly dressed elderly white female in makeup that she wasn’t aware settled in the creases and lines of her face. She was eating with her husband and another couple directly forward and to the left of our booth. I deliberately ignored her until Mu had reached his tolerance limit. I quickly lifted him into his stroller and only then realized she was determined to block Mu’s stroller from exiting by pushing her chair in our path.
“You know, our daughter has one of those,” she said to me. “Excuse me?” “How do you mean?” I answered. “One of those.” “Like your son.” “A (insert r-word) kid.” “Did you know there is a place called the Arc where you can leave him so you don’t bring him here?” “He’s better off there with his kind.” There was a collective intake of breath in the restaurant. You could hear a pin drop.
I smiled at her, a smile our daughter tells me is terrifying, deliberately pushing Mu’s chair closer. He became more agitated and threw a sharp vocalization at her making her flinch.“I know the Arc very well.” “Do you want to know what they told me about my son?” I answered loudly enough for the whole restaurant to hear while retrieving his favorite stim toy from his backpack and handing it to him to calm him.
“Sure.” she replied.
“The Arc said to take him out in his community, everywhere, all the time.”
I held my head up in righteous indignation and Nuri suddenly stood beside me looking down at her and said: “is everything alright here honey?” We both stared her down and red-faced, she was forced to move her chair forward. Several other diners, embarrassed, moved chairs and tables to allow me to wheel Mu out of there. Two people came up to us on our way out to apologize for the woman’s behavior. A waiter apologized and held the door open for us. Nuri waited for his credit card and joined us outside.
Once we were on the tree-lined walk home, Mu immediately calmed down. Nuri took over the job of pushing the stroller. It was a beautiful day for a leisurely stroll outside. After about five minutes we looked at one another and burst out laughing.
I leaned over and lightly ruffled Mu’s hair. “Well done, Mustafa,” I whispered to him.
This isn’t an unusual event. It just ended well. It happens so frequently that sometimes I forget it isn’t right nor it is the way other families have to live.
We are fortunate enough to love one another and see the bad attitudes of others towards our marriage and our son as their problem rather than blame him or his neurology for their discomfort. He is a long way from the wiggly child he was at restaurants now. But his disability is apparent, and we still get the gaping stares, the blatant ableism, additional racist comments, and the attitude.
I don’t enjoy staring down ableist old white ladies who despise their own grandchildren.
But then again, no one is going to denigrate our son or her grandson for that matter.
This is the job of being parents. This is also my job as an activist.
These are the people and the mentality we are trying to counter. It is a hell of a job, but somebody’s got to do it.
To all Autism families. It isn't their neurology's fault. The fault is in generations of people who weren't brought up to know that different doesn't mean undesirable or less. It just means different.
Onward, to battling the injustice in a world where our children do belong, to give them their rightful place in society.