“I’ve noticed as Eric has aged, he is seen less and less as an actual person. Which is why he is no longer pitied. To them, he’s no longer a sentient human being. He is seen more and more as a thing. Eric IS a person. “
By Lori Pollard
As a young child, my son Eric was quiet and looked angelic, with platinum blonde curly hair, a round cherubic face and saucer-sized deep mahogany eyes. He was so cute strangers stopped me on the street and offered to buy him an ice cream cone. They’d say “get him an agent and put him in commercials.”
At age 6 months the crying fits started, and at around 9 months I became concerned over his lack of babbling. No sounds, no words.
In 1996 at age 3 he was diagnosed with autism, an unusual diagnosis back then. When he was very small, the biggest issues I had in terms of acceptance in the wider society were because of his wandering/bolting and his long term use of a baby bottle and diapers. People assumed I was paranoid (I’d make sure doors were locked, always keeping him in my sight and within reach) or I was coddling him (bottles, diapers). When I’d mention my son was autistic, people would universally respond with pity, which I hated, but at least they were trying to be open to my son. I could educate them about autism. About Eric.
There were, however a few notable exceptions. There were no services back then, the only recommendation from doctors was to get Eric in daycare for socialization and to establish a routine. Yet no daycare would accept Eric because he was a flight risk. So I enrolled us in as many Mommy and me programs as I could find. I found a very good one in an affluent neighborhood near me. It was for the children only, not a Mommy and me, but they allowed me in to assist with Eric. Eric at this point was about 5, no longer a cute baby. Still a cute kid, but his differences were much more apparent. The other children in the group, who were 3 and 4 year olds, had no problem with Eric. They treated him like everyone else. Until break … when they all went out to the hall and had a snack with their parents. The parents clutched their children near to them whenever Eric made his noises. They’d steer their children away from him. They never said a word, in my earshot at least, but those actions affected how the children behaved towards Eric. After the break no child would sit by Eric.
One mom approached me. She asked how she could help her daughter understand Eric and his behaviors. I knew all the other mothers were listening, so I told her that none of the children had an issue. It was the parents who did, and they had communicated that fear to their children. If they want their children to be accepting, they needed to be accepting themselves. Over the next few sessions, several children were pulled from the class. I stopped taking Eric to that program. He didn’t need that kind of discrimination. We only faced that type of discrimination in upper middle class neighborhoods. It was an elitist thing, not an autism thing. When things really started to change was when Eric reached the age of 9 or 10. He was no longer a “little kid”, and daily we were verbally assaulted by strangers. The verbal assaults became worse as Eric became older.
Eric is 22 now. I’ve seen people on the bus move to another seat so as not to be near him. I have a niece whose son calls Eric “crazy man” while he hides behind his mom or dad. Eric is not aggressive. He actually has many less behaviors than he had as a child. People no longer pity him. They’ve replaced their pity with fear, or worse disgust. I’ve noticed as Eric has aged, he is seen less and less as an actual person. Which is why he is no longer pitied. To them, he’s no longer a sentient human being. He is seen more and more as a thing. Eric IS a person. He’s a pretty exceptional person. He is my divining rod, pointing out bad people mascarading as good, and always embracing the truly good people.