“Rude” and “Weird”: Woman says of Boys with Asperger’s

07 Nov

One Saturday a month, I take a group of middle school boys with Asperger’s Syndrome into the community. Our goals? A combination of community-based instruction, including skills like waiting in line to order your lunch, how to amend a mistake with your meal, and how to get a clerk’s attention, and socialization. Put simply: Plain ol’ hanging out on the weekend.

The reactions of the community members we come across are one of the most important components of our day. Unfortunately, as much as they present “teachable” moments, their reactions quickly and often rudely highlight skill deficits as “mistakes”.

Today, only two boys joined me at a local fast food restaurant for the first activity on our list. The boys and I have been on many an outing, so I hung back as we walked in to see how their behavior would fair. A small girl, about five-years-old, was standing at the register ordering a frozen treat. Her mother was about five feet behind her, waiting and watching. In essence, our situations were identical; we were waiting for the inexperienced to build self-confidence and competence under our watchful eye.

One of “my” boys cut in front of this young girl. “Mistake” #1. Calling his name, I garnered John’s attention, and he walked over to me. No surprise, he loudly shared that he was completely unaware of his error. He was not apologetic. He rejoined the line, behind her. After the little girl ordered, John loudly announced what he wanted — a mango smoothie and a large order of fries. I was pleased. He looked in the clerk’s general direction and spoke clearly and slowly. He dug his $20 bill out of his pocket and dumped it on the counter.

“Rude,” I heard the woman say. Apparently, Mistake #2. Ironically, I always remind the boys to hand their money to the cashier in case of this general reaction. John gathered his change and stood by me waiting for Mike. John began talking to me about his latest YuGiOh card addition. “Weird,” the woman muttered. I know John did not hear this comment, so I can only assume the quip was for my benefit. Mistake #3 is all on me.

I told the boys to get their drinks, preparing to educate this woman about AS. And how it means hyper-focusing, me-oriented behavior, poor volume control, poor perspective taking, intense interests. How her five-year-old can be, in some respects, on the same social plane as my two 13-year-old clients.

As I turned to her, the scene felt like slow motion. I ended up face to face with her. I looked down at her daughter and said, “Great job ordering your ice cream. I hope you enjoy it.” I walked away.

My mom would call my response, “Killing them with kindness”. As I sat down with the boys, I couldn’t help but feel like I had betrayed them. Like I missed an opportunity to inform an unknowing person about a hidden disability that is misunderstood in so many ways. The boys didn’t hear or see her reactions, in fact they were happily eating their burger, fries, and smoothies and talking about the movie we were scheduled to see. I felt like I was the only one to defend them and I took the high road. In the end, I rationalized that this outing was about the boys, having fun and learning. But, there is still a voice in my head that wonders if I made the right choice.


Posted by on November 7, 2010 in ASD in the Grand Scheme, NTs on ASD


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18 responses to ““Rude” and “Weird”: Woman says of Boys with Asperger’s

  1. Tam

    November 7, 2010 at 1:05 AM

    Eh, taking the time to make an object lesson out of her may have ended up embarrassing the boys. Since they weren’t embarrassed already, it may have been the best choice to let it slide.

    • jholverstott

      November 7, 2010 at 8:12 AM

      That’s exactly what I thought. Great minds think alike.

  2. ThePeachy1

    November 7, 2010 at 1:28 AM

    My oldest son, went from an autism dx to an aspergers dx and over time turned into a mental health diagnosis. When he was a child I wished he had leg braces or hearing aids or something visual. People including family, friends and teachers never took into account the issues that they could not see. I tried to fight on his behalf at every turn, only to find myself fighting for years on end for a fight no one would understand and explaining to him how others saw him. Through all my years of fighting I never accomplished anything other than giving him the ability to “pass” in society for a short time frame. I failed him, the system failed him. I wish he would have had someone like you.

    • jholverstott

      November 7, 2010 at 8:15 AM

      In my opinion, the fight itself means you won. The boys didn’t “pass” today, so you are/were more successful than I. What’s a shame is that I still wish I had said something.

      • intalio

        November 12, 2010 at 10:06 PM

        There’s always the “You’re ugly and I’m Fat” aspect of this-“I may be fat, but I can loose weight.” Q: Who was more rude on your outing? A: The woman watching her five year-old make an order. Her ugliness is only remedied with training. And, the socialization skills of your clients were being worked on; she’s presumably a NT adult with no one working on improving her social skills (thus the ugly factor).

        I know what it feels like to still feel like a parental failure even in small moments of victory regarding advocating for my children’s needs, to still feel like the system (education and health/insurance) if failing to help me help my kids. I have to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can with what I have had at that point in time and not beat myself up over it.

        What could have been said that would have educated a woman who obviously from your text has no tact, in point of fact low social skills herself for not being able to keep her rude comments inside her head? Who behaved more autistically, your clients on a learning expedition or a rude woman with no patience and no stop gap between thoughts and verbalization?

        I think what concerns me is the daughter. Did she hear her mother’s comments, observe her rudeness to your clients? Will she grow to be as uneducated as her mother? Your clients missed the comments; but, did the five-year-old?

        There were so many teachable moments in your scenario, perhaps too many. Remember, you did the best you could in that moment. Maybe you could keep a small Asperger’s/Autism brochure/information card with statistics on it for future NT persons who make rude comments in front of your clients backs (a quiet means of education that could possible educate and not humiliate your clients.)

    • ThirteenX

      November 8, 2010 at 3:40 AM

      Oh. Believe me. Hearing aids don’t help much. People still treat you like an idiot, ignore your requests for accomodations, and frequently accuse you of lying/exaggerating.

      At least, they do if you can speak too well.

      Sound familiar? heh

  3. starkravingmadmommy

    November 7, 2010 at 1:31 AM

    It’s a tough choice. I think it’s important to remember that you were focused on teaching the boys that day, not the general public. You did a great job.

    • jholverstott

      November 7, 2010 at 8:14 AM

      I appreciate the kind words. I often feel like I have to do both. The boys usually learn faster.

      • Tam

        November 7, 2010 at 9:18 AM

        Don’t forget the pearls-at-swine analogy… it’s not always worth the time to try to teach someone who’s not worth teaching. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily true of that woman, but some people just plain don’t care, and they’ll take your pearls of advocacy and stomp them underfoot.

        So you learn to spend your time passing on your wisdom to people who are not complete fools. And when you get good at telling the difference, you help the people you’re teaching to tell the difference, too. And then you walk away together and leave the swine to trample each other.

        Or some such nonsense 🙂

  4. JoAnne

    November 7, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    I think at that point and time you did the right thing. I am sure future outings will provide you opportunities to respond to the uninformed. Keep up the good work. In the future when you are on some talk show I can say ” I know her and worked with her!” 🙂

    • jholverstott

      November 7, 2010 at 3:11 PM

      Hi, JoAnne!, You’ve already made it to TV! Thanks, though, for your thoughts.

  5. Jeff Gitchel

    November 7, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    It does no good to second guess yourself. Clearly you had more than one priority. You had yourself and the boys to consider against the benefits to everyone to educate a rude person. Your mind did the quick calculations and decided education was lower in the list than gathering kids and their food and preserving a happy outing. The guilt simply reminds you that your decision was the result of mentally balancing conflicting pressures instead of carelessness. Those types of quick mental decisions are just what you’re hoping the children will learn to make.


  6. ThirteenX

    November 7, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    Humiliation was a large part of growing up for me, once I learned how to be humiliated. I wished I didnt’ have to hear all the things my mother would say to me (like, the way I socialized with my friends was ‘like a knife in [her] heart”).
    If the kids had heard her, the lesson for the woman would have been a good teaching moment for them – teaching them that their mistakes are ok, that they aren’t freaks or bad people because they need to learn things differently and at a slower place.
    But, the kids didn’t hear, and the situation would have taught them that people are talking about them behind their back. I still struggle with the paranoia and worry about what other people think every time I move. It’s getting better, but it’s a slow process.

    Saying what you did to her daughter – I have very, very slowly caught on to the ‘kill ’em with kindness’ concept. Having been killed with kindness before, I think it probably makes more of an impact than lecturing someone who’s already irritated and judgmental. The way doing something nice like that throws someone for a loop makes a bigger impression.

  7. Dennis Porter

    November 7, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    I’m reminded of the phrase I’ve learned, “What others think of me is none of my business.” I am only responsible for myself. You were there to let the boys learn for themselves and that’s what you did, kept their focus on them. Keep up the great work!

    • jholverstott

      November 7, 2010 at 5:36 PM

      I love that phrase! Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. James

    November 8, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    I have asperger’s and unfortunately didn’t have the sort of education you are providing these young men when I was growing up. I had to learn the “hard way”, making all my own mistakes and trying to rationalise them into a set of rules. I’m now in my late 30’s and enjoy a happy marriage, my two beautiful daughters, a successful career and still struggle with the NT rules of engagement.
    Don’t loose heart or beat yourself up (hah – hypocritical coming from me!) – your young students will hopefully be saved much embarrassment, pain and misunderstanding through your hard work 🙂
    One small thing, but I don’t consider myself “disabled” and it always stings a little when I hear asperger’s described that way. Some (many) are more affected than myself, and I understand that – I prefer “ASD=Autistic Spectrum Difference” and “PDD=Pervasive Developmental Difference“. My brain simply processes stimuli differently to NT’s and frankly, I think THEY are the ones missing out! Sometimes I wish they could see what I see – my world is full of wonder, even in things many consider inane or common. I often wonder why NT’s just don’t “get it” when things are as plain as day to me 😉 The differences between NT’s and myself are simply that; differences. Neither is “right”, neither are “wrong”, they just “are”.

  9. fluffinear

    April 13, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    I have sadly been in this position on more than one occasion. I love my ASD info business cards. They come in handy in this type of situation.


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