Like it or not, autism is a big part of our world. There's a reason that this blog is called "The Autism Bubble", because that's what we live in a lot of the time. But truthfully, there are times when, for my own sanity I need to burst from the bubble and not talk/read/think or breathe autism. So there have been plenty of times when I have avoided bringing autism into a conversation about my kids with someone, because:
1. I didn't think they'd have the first clue what I'm talking about
2. Bubbly wasn't there, I had things to do and I just wanted to forget about autism for five minutes
3. I really just couldn't be bothered.
It's okay to feel like this, and sometimes we need to switch off. But today I learned a bit of a lesson, and it made me think.
I was tired. I'd just been to counselling where The Little One hadn't slept in the pram as planned, so I'd had to concentrate even harder than normal while ensuring my happy, but very active and curious toddler didn't destroy anything. We both needed food and a rest, but I really had to buy nappies, so we'd stopped at the shops on the way home.
I was wearily getting the heavy pram out of the boot (again) when I saw her. An old neighbour of my parents' who I hadn't spoken to in years, but always waved to as I drove past. I didn't remember hers' being a happy home. Her former husband wasn't a nice man, her kids played with me sometimes when we were younger, but they all went off the rails at some point. She was always out in the garden, or walking the dog. She was friendly enough though and clearly lonely, and I knew she'd probably want to chat. Eye contact was made and we both smiled and said hello politely, but I confess that I was hoping she would keep walking to work (she was in uniform).
She slowed and walked over..
"You've had another one?" She said, obviously not in a hurry.
"Yep, number two. Another little boy". I lifted The Little One out and she stayed as I strapped him into the pram.
"He's a big boy. Your other son would be at school now wouldn't he?"
"Yeah, he's in year one this year. Growing up too fast."
I waited, resigned. The next question is always "What school does he go to?" and the conversation turns to autism as most people know it is a special school and not in our suburb. Usually I don't mind this so much, and I tell people how awesome Bubbly's school is, what a happy boy he is and how well he's going. I'm normally happy to do a bit of awareness raising. But today I was tired, and "talked out". I really wanted to skip it, but she surprised me.
"This one must have some fun with him. Do they play well together?"
I paused for half a second as I thought how to answer. Do I or don't I go there?
Then I smiled, because my boys drive each other crazy, and I love it. The little boy who used to be on the floor screaming in sensory overload with every little peep from his baby brother now adores him and doesn't leave him alone. That easygoing little baby is now a strong willed toddler who is starting to make it very clear to his brother what he does and does not like (and he LOVES anything that is Bubbly's!). I couldn't be prouder of their relationship and how it has developed.
I relaxed, and because I can't help myself:
"They do, and they drive each other crazy too. It's really beautiful to see them play together because Bubbly has autism, and it was a lot for him to adjust to when The Little One was born. They have a really special relationship now."
Just like that, autism was in the conversation.
She smiled as that sunk in. "Does Bubbly talk?"
"Not really, though he's starting to pick up a few words and use them a little". I locked the car and we walked together.
"I have a grandson- well, Michael* actually has three boys, and his first has autism too. He doesn't talk either, and he doesn't really eat."
"Ahh, Bubbly's like that too"
"Does Bubbly go to (name of school)?"
My smile got bigger. "Yes! He does! They're so great with him."
"My grandson goes there too. It's a beautiful place."
It turns out that I knew him, though I'd had no idea who his parents were as I'd only met his other grandmother. He is a gorgeous almost-teenager who Bubbly did feeding group with last year. We had a great chat about how wonderful the school is, and she talked about her grandson, just like my mum talks about Bubbly, not dwelling on the behaviours, but speaking with love and pride of the happy boy with the wicked smile and laugh that she knows. She shared a funny story where he'd used behaviour to make it clear to everyone that he wasn't impressed with what was happening, and I laughed at the visual I had in my head as I'd seen him do the same thing at school.
In more than twenty years I'd never really had a conversation with this lady, and I'd really assumed that she wouldn't have the first clue about autism. But she surprised me, and we had some serious common ground there. She mentioned a couple of other children at the school whose grandparents she knows from other places and she talked about how nice it is when she sees them, and they can talk about their special grandkids together. When we parted I had the biggest smile on my face, and to be honest I was pretty spun out.
It was a brief encounter, one that I didn't want, but which taught me a bit of a lesson. It's not always about raising awareness. Sometimes it's just about connecting and reaching out to someone you never thought you'd have anything in common with. Sharing a story, a laugh, and a "same here". Sometimes it might be talking to that person who is just plain hard work, or potentially wasting your breath on someone who just won't get it. But you just never know how the conversation might progress, or what you might learn about them- or yourself.
Even when you don't feel like it.
*name has been changed