There was a fundraiser in our town tonight for a school friend of Finny’s. Lots of people in the community were going and we didn’t want to miss it, but we didn’t know how Finn was going to handle it. It was at a restaurant with a bar and lots of people. We prepped him before the event and told him it was for his friend Charlie whose house burned down. He agreed to go and was excited that “there was going to be food there.”
Finn fell asleep on the car ride over.
We should’ve just turned around and gone home. We should’ve known it was a recipe for disaster.
As we walked up, we heard music coming from inside. Finn wouldn’t let go of my hand. We coaxed him through the door, but he wouldn’t cross the threshold once inside. I immediately offered his noise cancelling headphones, which he accepted. But he was already gone. I sat with him while Joe took the other three kids to put our stuff down and check out the Chinese auction.
I tried to do the “Finny wash” (a deep pressure massage all over his body while I sing to the disco tune “At the Finny wash, doot doot doot doot doot doot doot.”) But that only agitated him more.
Joe tagged in and I took Charlie, Henry and Tallulah to put our tickets in for some prizes.
It was getting more crowded and I knew if we had any chance of getting Finn in the door we needed to do it soon! So, Joe went to sit with Finn and Tallulah while Charlie, Henry and I went to get some food.
It was communal seating and Joe had moved tables twice just to find the “right” spot for Finn. He finally sat down at an older gentleman’s table with five available seats. I returned back with the food to find Finn nervously shifting in place by Joe. He was beyond agitated. He was still wearing his headphones, but it wasn’t helping. Nothing was right for him. The seat wasn’t right. The food wasn’t right. “Mommy, stop eating 2 noodles at a time. That’s gross.” I offered him meatballs (his favorite), rolls, sausage. No. No. No.
He was complaining that his feet hurt. (They have been bothering him since he got his serial casts off. He has trouble standing for long periods of time.) I offered him my chair, but it was no good. I offered to take off his shoes, but that was no good either.
I was at a loss.
And then. The old man sitting across from us, who had apparently been watching our entire show, said to the other gentleman sitting next to him, “Well, this boy isn’t very happy tonight.”
He said it loud enough for me to hear.
I looked up and suddenly realized there were five older people sitting across from us just staring at our debacle.
All the color drained from my face as I stood there jilted and stunned. Did he mean to say that so loud? Was he being malicious? I was immoble. Do I say something? We were at a benefit for another special needs child in our community. I thought we were in a safe place. Joe saw the look on my face (and probably the steam coming out of my ears) and said, “Shan, go get us some drinks. Go get us some drinks!”
I was seething, but I walked away. I mean Finn was wearing noise cancelling headphones for God’s sake. Isn’t that the universal sign for… I don’t know… something? I know that this man was older and probably never heard of the word autism, but we didn’t deserve that. Couldn’t he see that we were trying? Couldn’t he see that we were floundering? If only he knew just how hard we worked to even get Finn in the door. If only he knew just how hard we work to do anything.
I have an autism awareness pin that says, “My child has autism and sometimes can’t control his behavior.” I bought it to wear on my bag at church, so that the dirty looks would stop. I’ve never had the courage to use it. Because I sometimes resent having to be a billboard for autism. I wish I didn’t feel the need to explain every “unacceptable” thing Finn does to every judgmental passerby.
That ends today.
I knew we had to leave the fundraiser from the moment we walked in. It wasn’t right for Finn and therefore, it wasn’t right for the rest of us, either. That was a long, excruciating hour for Finn and I regret putting him through that. I feel bad that the man saw and judged Finn when he was in such a bad place. He saw the messy, anxiety-ridden face of autism today and missed out on meeting my beautiful son.