I am so used to being confronted by ignorance when it comes to autism that I sometimes forget that individuals with special needs don’t have the monopoly when it comes to attracting jaw-dropping intolerance.
I recently took a couple of days off as ‘mummy’ and visited a spa with my best friend. I can highly recommend this. It means being in 'high powered mum mode' the day before – Gavin only remembered on that particular day that he was due to speak at a conference. This meant arranging a babysitter, a lift to and from school, a Social Story for Bobby and a picture story for Alec, by which time I could barely summon the energy to pack.
When I told Bobby that mummy sometimes needs a holiday, he offered to let me rest at home whilst he ‘did everything’. Alas, Bobby’s heart is much bigger than his stamina when it comes to tidying up, so I passed on that one.
On the first evening at the spa, we had booked into its marvellous restaurant. My friend is vegetarian, and veggies had a separate menu all to themselves. She was delighted. The waiter came up and started to make chit-chat. Feeling sociable and at ease, we joined in. But when he found out she was a vegetarian, I could have sworn she had said Martian, because nothing else would have deserved his response.
First of all he tried to persuade her that the duck was really good. Whaaa? Did he not hear that she was just celebrating her 24th year as a vegetarian? Then he compared being vegetarian to having an eating disorder. He said this with a grin. I’ve never understood those people who feel that winding others up is a form of humour so side-splittingly funny that you’ll be forced to fall into the aisles even whilst feeling massively affronted.
Finally, he recalled the hilarious time that he hid some meat in the soup he'd cooked for a vegetarian friend. My friend by this time was staring bleakly at her place setting, wondering what he had in store for her. Although the subsequent meal was meat free and gorgeous, I was later forced to complain, especially after the spa added one of those ‘optional gratuities’ for him onto my bill. Fortunately when I told them, they didn't see the funny side either.
It was really refreshing, in a warped kind of way, not to be complaining about ignorance concerning autism for a change. I’d just written a two page letter to the head of a secondary school in our area whose Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator had greeted the prospect of Bobby joining them in 2015 with about as much enthusiasm as if I’d announced the outbreak for World War Three. Needless to say, he won’t be going there.
We mustn’t assume the world is against us, though. The waiter who only took one foot out of his mouth to swap feet was just one example of many people who don’t take the time out of their own limited experiences to find out more about other people’s. When horizons are narrow, views are short-sighted.
I'm inclined to inform as much as possible, and then turn towards those whose horizons are wider. There are as many of them, but maybe we don’t always give them the credit they deserve. That's because pillocks like that waiter are so astounding that they threaten to sap all the positive flavour that this world has to offer.