Earlier this week, I went to donate blood which is something that I do on a regular basis. My son came with me which is something he does on a regular basis.
He knows the way it works: We sit in the waiting area and then when it’s my turn, he goes to the recovery area to colour in, eat snacks and wait for me. It’s not uncommon for children to accompany their parents who are donating blood. The clinic has crayons and colouring in sheets available for those not uncommon occasions.
This has never really been questioned before… Until this week.
The person who was doing my preliminary interview said
“Oh. Why isn’t he at school?”
The fact that it was after school hours didn’t really occur to me when I automatically answered that we home school.
She could have left it there because, really, is it any of her business? But, she didn’t. She proceeded onwards with
“Why do you home school?”
I explained that my son is autistic and the school environment wasn’t meeting his needs.
She could have left it there because, really, is it any of her business? But she didn’t. She fell into the stereotypical response of
“Oh. He doesn’t look autistic.”
Really? What does autistic look like? Luckily, my increasing discomfort over her intrusive questions was wearing off and I responded that if she knew more about autism, then she would realise that we are both very typically autistic.
This put a temporary end to her questions; questions that she had asked me in front of my son.
It was only a temporary end though because once in the interview room where they check weight, iron levels and blood pressure, she started asking me more questions. Among them:
“He has such an unusual vocabulary for his age. You obviously can’t talk down to him?”
Why would anyone want to talk down to a child exactly?
“Do they check up on you that you’re teaching the right things?”
Yes, they do actually.
“Why can’t he go to school?”
The school system can’t support him adequately, and he was bullied badly because he is noticeably different.
“Will he be ok there without you? He won’t cause any trouble?”
(Clearly, she had decided that an autistic child who is home schooled is a trouble maker) No, he will be fine. We’ve done this before.
“What do you do about his social interaction?”
(Did he not – just a few minutes ago – have an entirely socially appropriate conversation with her?) This is what we do. We go out into the community, and we meet up with friends of various ages. Sometimes, we come across people who we would prefer not to encounter, but we discuss that afterwards, and use it as a learning experience. Yes, I said that because by then, I was somewhat tired of the inquisition.
Finally, the inquisition was over. My preliminary checks were completed and I donated blood. My son was fine. He caused no trouble. We completed the blood donation routine with a wander through the city and a stop at McDonalds because that’s all part of the ritual for both of us.
But I felt drained for the rest of the day; not because I had donated blood but because I had to deal with a tonne of questions that really weren’t appropriate. Why do some people insist on asking intrusive questions of strangers? What business is it of theirs? Who is it that lacks social skills again?
People are the reason we don’t people. Too often, we’re used as someone else’s teachable moment when we’re only trying to live our lives.