I am very aware that April 2 is Autism Awareness Day. I am also of the mind, as so many bloggers have posted before me, that I don’t be need to be made “aware” of autism; I live it 24/7 with my son. Instead, I need others to accept Quentin for who he is. In turn, I am doing the same. So instead of waxing on about the meaning of this day/ month of recognition, I’d like to give you a little taste of a recent event that happened at my home.
About a month ago, my mom sent me an email with a coupon code for an online thrift store she thought I’d like. Curious, I clicked on over to the website and began to look at kids’ clothes. As I scrolled through the options, one shirt in particular jumped out at me. It was a t-shirt with the McDonald’s logo. As longtime readers of this blog know, Quentin has a true enthusiasm about corporate branding for most of his life. This enthusiasm comes and goes, but it really has never gone away completely. So naturally, when I saw a t-shirt with the McDonald’s logo on it, I could not help but purchase it. I know that it was sort of fanning the flames of this perseverative interest, but hey – I’m his mom and I love him.
To be clear on this, Quentin’s fashion sense has never been strong. He pretty much wears the stuff I give him, as long as it’s comfy enough. However, he does have a strong distaste for clothes I buy for him that have characters from TV or movies. Cute Star Wars t-shirt? He’s not going to wear it. Funny Minions shirt? Not for him. And while it worked for a bit when he was little, he wouldn’t be caught dead in a shirt that had any kind of superhero franchise. Fine with me; I was never such a big fan of this kind of clothing for kids. So up until now, his wardrobe has mostly consisted of solids and stripes, with an occasional tie-dye or a promotional T-shirt from an organization he has been a part of. (Also, he does like shirts that say “AWESOME” – so they have been stuck in there, too.)
That changed the day I clicked “Add to Cart” on that McDonald’s shirt. It arrived, and I immediately washed it. Taking it out of the dryer, I was excited to show Quentin. “Look what Mommy has for you, Quentin…” He smiled as I approached. He could see those golden arches from far away. “It’s a shirt for you. Do you like it?” He approached me, cautiously.
“YES!” he squealed. Then he ran around the room. (This is a good sign. It means he really, really likes it.)
He took off his shirt and immediately put it on. He galloped around the living room. Then he stopped and began tracing the arches slowly, from the middle of the M to the edges, mimicking the motion that fingers make in the commercials.
Our babysitter was there, and both of us were giggling at his response. He was truly amazed that this could be put on a shirt. But, I started to tease him a bit – and this was my big mistake. I sometimes forget that autism means he does not understand teasing. He takes everything completely literally and I need to learn to keep my big mouth shut. Anyway – this is how it went. I said something like, “Oh, Quentin! You love that so much! The next thing I know you’ll want a Chase Bank shirt! And a Toyota shirt!” (I was mocking him with some of his favorite logos these days.)
Quentin stopped dead in his tracks. He came to me. “Yes,” he said.
“Yes.. what?” I asked. “Do you actually want a Chase shirt now?”
“Yes!” he said, getting angry. “Chase shirt!”
My smile dimmed. I told him plainly, “I don’t have a Chase shirt, Quentin. I got you a McDonald’s shirt. Here it is.”
Quentin mustered up his speech to give me the sentence he knows I will respond to. He said, slowly, “I want Chase shirt, PLEASE.”
I countered, calmly, “Okay. I heard you. I don’t have one.”
If you are an autism parent, I think you probably know what happened here. Yup, full-blown meltdown. Screaming, headbanging, flat-on-the-floor with anger meltdown. Because his Mommy is the WORST and depriving him of a Chase Bank shirt! It should be appearing magically when asked for with a ‘please’!
And so the McDonald’s shirt got peeled off of him and replaced. Somehow, we slogged through the rest of the evening. I hid that McDonald’s shirt away, because I knew that if he saw it again the burst of anger and hatred would return. After he was finally sleeping in bed, I got on my laptop and did what just about any parent would do for their autistic kid having a meltdown like this: I logged onto ebay and started looking for Chase Bank shirts.
Here’s a little tidbit about ebay that you may not have realized until now: There are actually a ton of people trying to get rid of their silly corporate logo shirts. Pretty cheap, for the most part. So basically, what started as a little hunt for a shirt turned into a shopping bonanza for me. I didn’t mean to do it, but by the end of the night, I had purchased about eight different logo shirts for Quentin.
But, boy – Quentin was thrilled to get that Chase Bank shirt, when it finally arrived! My Best Mommy status was reinstated and he was thrilled. But… heh, heh… it’s not just the Chase Bank shirt. Now he has that one, and the McDonald’s shirt… and let’s just say several others for his spring and summer wardrobe.
His favorite, however, happens to be the same as mine – the one from Apple. I hope he wears it all the time, because it expresses who Quentin is and stands for in a nutshell. For me, this is what Autism Acceptance is all about.
Happy Autism Acceptance 2016, everyone!