They start young.
Monkey is roughly two and a half right now. In the past two months he’s been through multiple medical procedures and surgeries, in and out of hospitals, which has really raised his anxiety level. His behavior in public can be … different. Sometimes it’s a problem, such as when he decides to bolt out of the building into the street while Mommy is trying to complete necessary paperwork. Other times, it’s not really a problem, it’s just different, and I realize I’m the one who needs to adjust my expectations.
Unfortunately, getting other adults to adjust their expectations is beyond my power. He’s gotten some nasty looks recently, even one deliberately nasty comment. What more commonly happens is that an adult isn’t being outright nasty, but … clearly they could use some expectation adjustment.
For example, this morning I took Monkey to his library story-time. It was the first actual outing I’ve taken him on since his surgery last week (I’m not counting urgent care as an outing). When we got there, they’d just started, so there were a lot of other kids and some noise. Monkey freaked out and didn’t want to go in; I knew I had to respect that. He’s been forced into lots of painful medical things lately, he’s still in pain (even with two medicines) and his anxiety is high. Not the time to push an experience that may be overstimulating for him. Besides, we were there to have FUN. So when he said he didn’t want to go in, I said, “OK, you don’t have to.”
Instead, he decided to sit at one of the craft tables just outside the door for story time – the door was open, so we could still hear – and color. There were supplies to make a paper turkey. DS took one of the pieces and started coloring on it.
Then one of the adult volunteers came over and told him he couldn’t color on the pieces because “Those are for children who go to story time, and you should go to story time.”
In fairness, she didn’t say it in a mean way, and she did get him another piece of paper to color on. But my head was quietly exploding. WHAT?!? My medically complex, socially delayed, possibly autistic two year old who’s been sobbing in pain the last few nights doesn’t get to color this particular piece of paper or do a craft with his mother, because … why? He wasn’t in the right room? He didn’t prove that he could sit with a crowd of loud toddlers and preschoolers and not melt down?
What this volunteer obviously didn’t understand was that Monkey was attending story time. He was just doing it from a greater distance, and with less direct participation, than the other kids. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It didn’t hurt anyone for him to attend and participate in his own way.
I let it go, because Monkey was content to color a different sheet of paper. But I wish there had been a way – simple, brief – to help the volunteer understand how wrong her perception of the situation was. How limited and superficial it was. She saw the outside of the situation, but totally failed to perceive its inner reality.
Conformity is an outward thing. It’s inorganic. It’s not the same as harmony – sometimes it’s the opposite. I want Monkey to be able to relate to his environment, and to other people, in an organic and harmonious way. But I’m afraid that other people just want him to conform, to make their own world feel simpler. And I don’t know how to change that.