I talk to a lot of people at work each week. Most of them are people who I see regularly, and I get to know them after a while. There is a lot of small talk about weekend plans, weather, etc.; so it is no surprise when the topic of children comes up. People are always asking me if I have any children.
I usually answer with a simple, “Yes, we have one.” This leads to questions about gender and age. Sometimes it stops there, but often it continues into something along the lines of, “Oh, five is such a fun age….” And then goes on to conversation about what typical five year olds are like and what kind of things my daughter likes or enjoys doing.
It’s all very safe conversation for most people. But at some point, this line of questioning forces me to explain that my daughter has autism and is nonverbal. And, unless I am going to outright lie about the things she enjoys doing, I am going to need a disclaimer with my answer.
It’s not that I have a problem sharing this, it’s just that it changes the tone of the conversation a bit. The safe, barely-engaging banter we were both enjoying in our brief time together now suddenly becomes deeper than either of us had intended.
I used to avoid the questions that lead to this place. You know, change the direction before it gets there. But lately I have decided it doesn’t matter. If they are going to be seeing me regularly, they might as well know. Who cares if it makes them uncomfortable? If they are going to ask the questions, it would be even more uncomfortable if I lied about it. I would get caught in that lie eventually- and THAT would be awkward.
But it does make some people uncomfortable. We once had a neighbor who asked Dave a bunch of questions about Teghan until he finally had to answer that she had autism and wasn’t able to talk. The guy actually said, “Whoa, man. I don’t need to know about that.” What?!
I have not had that experience at work. In fact, lately I have discovered that a few of our “regulars” are very familiar with autism. I have had wonderful conversations in recent weeks with two separate fathers raising children on the spectrum. I am finding that many people are affected by autism in one way or another, and are very interested in learning more about Teghan.
One of our bank tellers has a daughter who attends the same school as Teghan. Every day I go into the bank, and usually when I get him we talk about our kids or what’s going on at school. Both of our daughters started back from their two week break with a new teacher, and we shared our struggles with getting them back on schedule after getting to sleep in for two weeks. All because one day I blurted out what school my daughter attends. It is a school just for special education, so I don’t often mention it; mostly because the fact invites strangers into a part of my world they don’t always need to know about. Other times I mention it just to avoid further questions….
But I do find myself less guarded these days about autism discussion. I’m less worried about the awkwardness, and more hopeful to find people who understand. So far it has been a success. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s world until the conversation takes an unexpected turn. Unexpected can be risky, but you seldom get any rewards without taking a chance once in a while.