Let me just start off by saying not only that I most certainly can, but also that it is exactly what I intend to do in my life whenever and wherever possible. That being said, the tactic I utilized in the story below when I was eight is probably not the single most appropriate if you are a grown adult.

From a very early age, I discovered that I am not very good at keeping the status quo. My brother taught me many lessons about why fighting back is important. The instance that comes to mind was in Haverhill, Massachusetts many years ago. I was eight and my little brother was five. We had been waiting for several minutes to be seated and he was walking around and stimming. When we sat down, the woman at the table next to us made a comment about how she hoped he did not make too much noise or do anything “more obnoxious than he already was.” Michael proceeded to rip his napkin into even sheets, stim and go about his restaurant routine.

The customer near us went from looking at him frequently to blatantly staring at my poor little brother. This went on past drink orders, past food orders and continued as we tried to eat. Michael began looking around and didn’t want to eat. He would glance at the woman and then stim more as she continued to stare. I decided she needed to know how it felt and my little 8-year-old brain came up with a plan. I walked around to each table and asked them to stare at the woman starring at my brother. Some laughed, some patted my head, but all eventually complied. She grew steadily redder and obviously bothered. She put money on the table and left. Michael happily organized his fries and finished his burger.

You have the power to draw attention to problems and to educate your community. Well I no longer advocate starting by staring back, I do think you need to make people, organizations, and school systems look at themselves. Educate people on the condition of your loved ones. With Michael’s autism, this means often explaining how his mind works and what difficulties he has. Sometimes it means explaining that he’s not “being bad” or trying to break the rules, but simply that he does not understand; and sometimes it means ensuring that his rights and liberties remain protected. For some children it means explaining why they are afraid of certain things. For others it’s why they are not fussy eaters, but merely limited eaters because of allergies and intolerances. Explain that if a parent asks that people not give their child a food item because it will make their child sick or they are unclear on the ingredients, it is NOT anyone else’s call to figure out if they are “overreacting”. Encourage people to have conversations about why parents have the boundaries they do and we all might learn more.

Do not sweep problems under the rug, discuss them. Do not be afraid to educate people. Where rights are denied and legal problems arise, do not be afraid to consult an attorney regarding the situation. Not everyone is going to love it and not all will listen, but all are worth educating. They may not learn to be more tolerant, but learning what is unacceptable may at least make them more tolerable.

And I’m not going to lie…if all else fails- that staring thing really works!

About

Megan Goodwin’s primary focus is on private Guardian ad Litem services in the Upstate. Ms. Goodwin also offers services to non-profit and family law clients. She has a great deal of experience working with children with special needs and youth who have been involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Social Services.