We were sitting across the table from the merit badge councilor. I always came to these with my son to make sure he could find the correct paperwork or remember the things that he had done. Experience had taught me this lesson and this day would remind me of why I didn’t send him alone. The counselor was busy looking at the genealogy charts spread out in front of him, trying to ascertain my son’s knowledge of the subject. I had insisted that this time he fill them out by hand because the information was already known. I wanted him to show his efforts even though writing was so difficult for him. He was older now, and this should have been a simple task. It was anything but!
As the counselor continued to look over the papers, he looked very annoyed. Finally, in an exasperated tone, he looked at my son and told him that he simply could not accept such shoddy work and that it was obvious by his handwriting that he didn’t really care about his efforts. I could see the alarm in my son’s mannerisms, not really sure what he should say or do. He sat shaking and squirming in his chair and his face began to redden. His handwriting really was poor and his spelling was atrocious. Had I not known that this was his best work, I can see that I may have reacted the same. But I did know and my protective side was reacting to this obvious lack of understanding.
I quietly but firmly explained to the counselor that for my son, this was actually really good. This really was his best work and that his having autism created some real challenges when it came to written communication. At the word autism, the man recoiled just a bit and I could tell that he wished he could take his comments back. He had no idea! As soon as he understood, he was more than willing to work with my son and help him get things passed off.
There are many lessons to be learned here! First of all, writing is typically extremely difficult for kids on the spectrum because of the lack of fine motor capabilities. It can be a struggle to brush their teeth, comb their hair, hold the utensils at the dinner table, use scissors, etc. I have also learned over the years that I have to consciously choose not to be offended by remarks from those who simply don’t understand. People really are generally nice and helpful. I have learned to speak up and be open about my son’s disability because when others have the right information, it helps them know how to process what they see and hear. As frustrated as I was at this man’s response, I don’t blame him for it. Based on the information he had, this would have been a legitimate response for someone trying to help a boy scout do his very best. As much as I myself try not to jump to conclusions about other people, I do also and I sometimes I get it wrong. Compassion is for all of us!
Have you ever had an experience where someone else’s ignorance required your tolerance to improve the situation?