Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
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Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings is an amalgamation of the random comments a mom received over the years about her autistic sons.
“You poor fucker! I’d rather have a child with cancer than a kid with autism.”
After all these years, I can’t remember who said that to me first or if anyone said it in real life. Perhaps it’s an amalgam of all the odd things people said and did in both my dreams and nightmares. Their comments and questions ran the gamut. How to respond? What to say?
My favorite by far is this one: –
“Did you say artistic? Is that so bad? Isn’t that the same as gifted?”
I’ll tell you one thing for free, if you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t have kids, autistic or otherwise. But I do get a few showstoppers. How about these?
“But why did you have two? Why have another autistic kid? Why didn’t you stop after the first one?”
I don’t have an answer for those either, and I should have one after all these years. Autism is commonplace. You can’t walk a single block from my home without bumping into one or several. At the last count, autism affects one in every 68 children, according to The Centers for Disease Control, which means that unless you’re a hermit, you know someone who is autistic.
Maybe you’re autistic yourself, especially if you’re also a hermit. I suspect, without proof, that every hermit, recluse, and misanthrope in history was on the spectrum. This is because, above all other things, autism is a deficit in social skills.
Social skills may seem a benign term, but it belies the subtle, sophisticated, and often nebulous ways we humans communicate with each other. Basically, if you don’t have any social skills, they’re difficult to identify and learn. However, before advancing to social skills, many autistic kids have to learn to speak. Some, even after years of therapy, never do.
Now my boys are adults–and yes, most autistic people are male–I have time to think and reflect. For the most part, I see no point in castigating offenders for their casual cutting remarks. I’m sure I’ve made many blunders myself.
I remember discussing how people are shunned after bereavement because nobody wants to engage with the mourner for fear of saying the wrong thing. Better to say nothing–seemed to be the consensus. For the bereaved individual, this decision means social isolation, and that’s the worst by far. They’re denied the opportunity to express their grief and share their emotional turmoil.
Isolation haunts families with autism too, or might if the family isn’t vigilant. It takes effort, persistence, and skin far thicker than rhino-hide to tackle the general public. A two-year-old’s tantrums can be tolerated by most. Still, that same behavior is not acceptable in an older child, especially if they’re nearing six-foot-tall and, heaven forbid, in a public forum. Why don’t we keep them at home until they can be controlled, or learn how to behave? Well, that’s because it’s your world they’ll live in when we, their parents, aren’t around anymore. Also, because the best method to learn about the randomness of life is by constant exposure. The world is their classroom, and they have as much right to use it as everyone else.
So what, if anything, is someone supposed to do? That’s what I would have wanted to know way back when my only knowledge of autism was from the movie Rainman. Maybe you have a friend or family member who has been affected by autism. How can you help? What could you do? Or perhaps you have suspicions, doubts, and questions. Should you take the risk of speaking up or speaking out if you notice an issue?
Rather than answer directly, instead, I’ll tell you a story.
Once upon a time, a woman with four children didn’t know what to do. The two girls were great, but the two boys were a conundrum. They could read, they could count, and any number of wonderful things as they ran around on their little tippy toes. But, other things were worrisome. They couldn’t point, they didn’t chat, their eyes never sought out their mother’s.
Then one day, the children’s uncle arrived for a visit from far, far away, from the land of China. Uncle had no children of his own, but like many others, considered himself an expert on the topic of child development. He said, in innocence, “I wouldn’t be surprised if those nephews of mine turned out to be autistic.” And the mother looked from the children to the uncle and back again and was very surprised. Then, she was hurt and shocked, and many other emotions too complex to unravel.
This is why hindsight is a gift. Without that kick to my backside, I might have delayed action. And more importantly, without early intervention this little tale might have turned into a tragedy instead of a comedy. Our errors are many, but humor keeps us sane.
Title quoted from King James Bible Matthew 21:16 “And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”
Madeline McEwen [she/her] has enjoyed publication in a variety of different outlets both online and in traditional print. Her fiction and non-fiction focus primarily on disabilities [ableism] and humor.