"He's Autistic. Is It Okay if They Play Together?"

"He's Autistic. Is It Okay if They Play Together?"
Jef With One F

This weekend was the last weekend where I had to go find a place that was mostly free, had wifi, was air conditioned, and had something to keep my four-year-old occupied while I tried to get some writing done. My wife is finishing the final days of her nursing schooling, and the kid and I were once again banished from the house while she studied for finals. That means we went to McDonald's, where the play areas are pretty clean, we can get lunch for less than $10, Disney Jr. is on an HDTV, and there are usually plenty of little kids to make friends with.

It was also the last week of Autism Awareness Month, and apparently that brought a few more kids on the spectrum out to play than normal because my daughter met and frolicked with several of them. How do I know they were autistic? Because their parents told me. To be more accurate, they asked if their children being autistic was OK when they began playing with my own non-autistic daughter.

Took the savor out of my three McDoubles (Hold the pickles) I can tell you. Behind that question are more assholes than a toilet testing facility.

My daughter was born in 2009, which means that the Andrew Wakefield study that found a link between the MMR vaccines and autism was already being torn apart for the jug o'not science that it was, but the pop media fascination with the idea was really starting to take off. That means it was a really scary time to be a first-time parent, and my wife and I agonized over the possibility that we would have to chose between potentially deadly diseases and a lifetime neural development disorder.

Thankfully, we had a very patient pediatrician that explained to us in the kindest words possible just how many idiots there are in the world and how to distinguish them from actual scientists.

So, my daughter ended up not having autism, but I had prepared myself well for the possibility that she might. This gave me what I thought was a pretty good amount of empathy for the parents of autistic children, but being asked if I had a problem with my daughter playing with another child because they were autistic showed me that I know nothing about it at all.

What kind of parent would say no to that? Last I checked autism wasn't contagious, and even if I just go by what the movies tell me autistic children are no more dangerous than any other kid. It's not like autistic kids are prone to biting or flinging feces or something. That's chimpanzees, which are generally very thin on the ground in the House of the Clown.

But the mere fact that three different parents made it a point to inform me that their child was autistic before I let them run through a tube maze with my own child says loads about the world and how it deals with these children. In that question are dozens, maybe hundreds of times when parents quietly ushered their children away from the "abnormal" child. In just a few short words I could hear the tiredness brought on by countless judging stares whenever autistic behavior presented itself in public. The sort of holier-than-thou dismissive coldness epitomized by Michael Savage telling listeners that autism was an example of a "a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out."

This story continues on the next page.  I can understand why it might ultimately be better to be up front with your child's autism during play dates in order to head off a possible scene later. I get it, but it breaks my damned heart. So let me say this...

Parents? Your kid doesn't need my permission to be autistic. They don't need my permission to be blind, to be in a wheelchair, to not speak the same language as my daughter, to be transgender, or a dwarf, or any other aspect of their life in general. They not only don't need my permission, they don't need anyone's permission. Not even yours. Not a single one of us dealt this hand; we just play the cards as best we can.

Know what I was writing about last week? A couple of parents that only got around four years with their son before he died of a rare cancer, and the video game they made to honor him. And yet, in an era when that is totally a thing, some parents apparently have lives so shiny they can get upset over other children drinking Yoo-hoo. And it's apparently an era where people can actually have the gall to look at a little kid with autism and feel that the best way to deal with that is to have their own child shun them like an unclean caste.

This world needs a lot of things. It needs fewer guns and more access to medicine and it needs a damned Doctor Who LEGO video game post haste. Most of all it needs us to consider other people before we open our big stupid mouths. No parent should have to apologize or ask permission for their autistic child to participate in the big old ball pit of life.

But some parents need to apologize for being assholes. Unlike autism, that actually can be contagious.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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