Last Friday I was incredibly bored and my girls desperately needed to get out of the house. So I decided to take a quick trip to the nearest grocery store.
First on my shopping list - diapers - the biggest size they carry. As I picked up the girly pink 4-5T pull ups all I could think was "I really hope Lexi is potty trained before we have to special order these." Next on my list - the controversial pacifiers. I quickly grabbed a few cheap packages (much to Lexi's delight) and hurried away from the pacifier isle to collect the rest of my list.
See... Lexi still loves her pacifiers - as chewy toys. We've tried replacing them with nifty chewy toys to no avail. And honestly, with all Lexi has going on we really see pacifiers as a non issue. Unfortunately random strangers absolutely think a four year old with a pacifier is an issue.
As we waited in line Lexi excitedly sang and danced with her new pacifiers. I thought Lexi's antics were adorable but when I looked over at the cashier it was obvious she didn't agree. All I could think was "here we go again, another case of 'isn't she too old for those.'" Fortunately, or unfortunately, the cashier didn't say anything about them as she rang up my purchases.
When Lexi's pacifiers where the only thing left to ring up the negotiations began, "Lexi we have to pay for those babe." Lexi didn't give them up without fussing a bit, but she didn't have a full meltdown either, so all in all I was impressed. However, the cashier was obviously not so impressed. It seemed her look said it all, "First, you're STILL letting your 4 year old have pacifiers? And second, you let her throw a fit when I have to ring them up? You're a terrible mom!"
Usually these looks don't bother me, but for someone reason last Friday it did. So half out of irritation and half out of desperation I explained to the cashier "she has autism so giving things up can be hard for her."
Immediately the cashiers look changed to one of understanding. But my relief turned to complete shock when she responded to my explanation of Lexi's behavior with "You can't even tell she has autism, most kids you can tell. Your lucky she looks so normal."
WHAT?!? My autism mommy brain was screaming. I tired to keep my calm and responded "actually that isn't true. Autism is called the invisible disability because you can't tell who has it and who doesn't."
"Well the kids with autism I've known all the kids with autism I've known you could tell..." was all she said, and then moved on to the next customer.
Then that was it. It was time for me to walk away to my car. She was now helping other customers. Frustrated I walked out to my car, pilled my groceries in the back, and drove away. I spent the entire drive home thinking "I should have said..."
After thinking through this scenario many times, here is what I've realized; it's up to me - to us - to raise autism awareness one person at a time. Maybe what I said wasn't in vain. Maybe the cute old lady next to us in line will see that "unruly" boy next door in a new light. Or maybe the cashier will be a bit less judgmental the next time she sees an older child singing to pacifiers. Either way, I have a renewed understanding of how important it is for me to raise autism awareness one person at a time throughout my community. Can you imagine how much awareness we could raise together if we each explained a new autism fact to one person a week!?!
As I head out into the world today I am going to watch for new opportunities to raise autism awareness... starting with the cashiers at my nearest grocery store.