The boys have been begging us to go to Central Park for months. I’m not sure what inspired their wanderlust, but we happily obliged.
Finn loves architecture. He could look at different kinds of buildings all day. And Charlie’s just always up for an adventure!
Of course, I was apprehensive about the trip for a myriad of reasons. First, I don’t really like New York City. I know! Before you attack me with all the reasons why “it’s the greatest city in the world” (Joe argues with me all the time!), I will say this trip has me warming up to the place. I am just not really a city girl. Or so I thought…
The more I am outside of our little corner of the universe, the more I am comforted by the diversity of other places. Not just from an ethnicity standpoint, although it is nice to expose the kids to all different nationalities. (Both boys marveled at all the different languages being spoken by the passersby. They loved trying to figure out what country they were from!) But I was looking at the diversity more from a disability standpoint.
As we walked the streets, we saw all sorts of disabilities. People in wheel chairs and walking braces. Blind people. Deaf people. And then, while I was waiting to catch the hotel elevator (which TT so adorably called the “alligator,”) there was a little girl with a nasal canula and an oxygen cart. She was waiting for the elevator with her mother and smiling sweetly at the twins in their stroller. While we waited, a crowd started forming behind us. (The building was older and there were only 2, rather slow moving, elevators). Once the elevator finally arrived, the mother, in a broken English said, “I don’t think there will be room on the elevator for your stroller.” I said, “Oh, no worries, we’ll fit.” She said, “No. Um. My daughter. She gets nervous when there’s a lot of people on the elevator.” I said, “Oh, gosh! Of course! No problem! Go ahead, I’ll catch the next one.”
I stood there with the other ten people now waiting for the next elevator and, of course, thought of Finn. Finn HATES elevators. He thinks the doors are going to close too fast and we are going to get separated without each other on the elevator. So when we get on, he makes quite a ruckus until the doors are finally shut. Joe usually stands there and holds the door and quickly jumps on at the last second, so Finn is satiated. All the while, I am reminding Finn, “It’s ok, Finn. We’re all here. It’s ok, Finn.” It’s the kind of thing that looks (and is) really stressful for all involved.
It’s the kind of thing I wish I could say to anyone waiting or attempting to get on an elevator with us, “Um, my son, he gets nervous when there’s a lot of people on an elevator, so can you just wait for the next one?”
Now. I know I am perfectly entitled to say that. And as Finn’s advocate I am OK with saying that to an impending elevator crowd if I had to, but I find that it starts an autism conversation I don’t feel like having at every turn. And not because I am not willing to spread a little autism awareness where ever we go (and believe me, we do), but because I don’t want to have to give Finn’s diagnosis to EVERY stranger we meet.
If Finn had an oxygen tank trailing behind him, or some other form of universally recognized physical disability, people wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But because Finn is standing there looking “perfectly normal,” it makes for a tough sell. (Except when we got on the elevator the first time during the trip. After Finn’s extreme physical discomfort, his “eh, eh, eh,” Daddy’s shuffling everybody on the elevator, and my verbal quelling, Finn says to the other riders, “We are all going to die.” They didn’t seem amused. I probably could have sold them on riding another elevator!)
It made me think a lot about the “handicapped accessible” world we live in. Because that little girl had an oxygen tank, it seemed perfectly suitable that she would be nervous that other people ride on the elevator with her (someone could trip on it and accidentally disconnect it) or maybe she just had elevator anxiety. Either way, who was I to challenge her? But here is Finn, with autism and a bevy of anxieties, but no oxygen cart, and I’m at a loss for a quick way to get people to not ride the elevator with us! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish a physical disability on Finn, but sometimes the invisible ones are so much harder to take care of!
I guess the next best thing I can do is ask you to ask others to be understanding to kids who seem nervous or “disrespectful” in social situations. That kid might be Finn. Or someone just like him. Not all kids wear their disabilities where everyone can see them.