I am a quiet introvert. I like my own company. My daughter likes her own company, or rather she has grown to like it because her additional needs put some barriers between her and interaction with other people. She regresses in to the safety of her own world.
But naturally she is an extrovert. She has a huge personality, twice the size of her physical height. Her teachers and therapists all love working with her because she is so full of life. So much fun to work with. Such a live wire. And so she gets noticed.
Added to this, sometimes her additional needs make her stand out in public. In cafés she stares in a way that isn’t always subtle. She doesn’t always look away when someone meets her gaze. I sometimes have to remind her not to look so hard at people. And she switches back to her hot chocolate.
At other times, though, it is me who catches other people staring at her over their coffee. I can see in their eyes that quiet laughter. Not bemusement at what she might be doing, because bemusement carries a potential for empathy. What I see is small minded people re-enforcing their own misguided view that they are somehow better than someone who battles with a world of illogical conventions that she doesn’t naturally understand.
And why should she? Our world is built on some pretty weird conventions. Looking at someone in a café because your naturally curious about what they are doing is one. But these conventions aren’t the point; it’s the people who desperately want to laugh at someone who can’t uphold these conventions is the point.
I must admit I get angry. I want to scream “why!” I want the whole world to open up its eyes and see this is wrong. But additional needs aren’t just the challenge of our children. I try to tell myself they’re also a challenge for me too. The hard part is rising to that challenge. Using what is unique about my daughter to make me a better person and the world a better place – just slightly.
Every time I see the looks or hear the disguised laughter I try to remind myself I should rise above it all and use it as a chance to demonstrate my years on this earth have amounted to something. I tell myself, help others become better people, by showing them how to grow as humans.
Thinking this, and actually going up to someone and saying something meaningful in a crowded café is another thing though. Another one of those weird conventions says I shouldn’t cause a scene. And I don’t unless the smirks become too obvious and the situation cannot be avoided. The only thing I fear along the way is my daughter recognising the laughter, and where it’s directed, and feeling the pain of knowing people sometimes laugh at her.