(Note to readers: This is not one of my best moments. I’m exploring events from our lives for the next book, in hopes that there are lessons and wisdom in these experiences. Or, at minimum, a good chuckle. Let’s see what happens with this one.)
At the end of Sam’s second-grade year, the kids and I went with Mark to Shreveport for a year-end concert with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra.
It was a great opportunity for the kids to see their dad perform as the tubist in the orchestra. Most concert settings are so formal, even I had hard time behaving.
The Shreveport Symphony had always held their year-end concert in the convention center. They put out round tables and lots of kitschy decorations around the room. Some people decorated their tables, too, and of course the food and wine flowed as the symphony played a pops program.
The acoustics were horrible — there was a level of background noise in the room that I’m sure made it a real challenge for the guys on the mixing board. But a great time was always had by all.
The kids and I sat in the back with some other symphony friends at our table and at tables around us. Given how young the kids were — Sam was 8, Michael was 5 and Paige not quite 3 — I was thrilled how well they behaved. Especially Sam. He didn’t get up and run around the tables. He wiggled and fidgeted some in his seat. Sometimes he would slip down and stand up next to his chair, but at his size, he wasn’t tall enough to block the view for any one around us.
This was a huge accomplishment for him. We had worked hard during second grade to help Sam learn to stay in his seat and pay attention. He had such trouble with it at the beginning of the year that his teacher had begun to send him out to the hallway with his aide when he couldn’t sit still. While I could see her point that he was a distraction for the other kids in the class, the aide noticed that sending him out in the hallway was reinforcing the problem. She got worried. I called Kevin Callahan, a special education professor at the University of North Texas at the time. He came to observe and designed a little intervention that helped Sam teach himself to stay in his seat and pay attention. It was brilliant and it worked.
But Sam’s behavior wasn’t perfect, and even though his little brother and sister wiggled and fidgeted, too, Sam’s wiggles got the attention of one woman a table or two away. She would watch Sam. She would whisper to the people at her table. It was hard not for me to notice I was being judged, too.
I did my best to ignore the Chinese water torture of her judgment. We were making some good memories and I didn’t want to give her the power to spoil it.
After the concert ended, people began packing up their tables. Sam, Michael and Paige rushed to the stage to hug their dad and meet the other musicians. I stayed behind to pack up our things. I looked up to see the woman was approaching me.
She began to tell me what she thought was wrong with Sam.
I listened patiently for her to get to her stopping point. I told her that actually I was quite proud of my son because he has autism and his dad was performing and this was about the best he had sat still and paid attention this whole year.
Then she smiled this treacly smile and said, “Well, I am a teacher of the emotionally disturbed and in my experience …”
I lost it.
I leaned forward and yelled, “Get out of my face.”
She looked stunned. But she didn’t move.
“Get out of my face!” I yelled again.
She took a step back.
“I said, get out of my face!”
Rule of three, she finally went back to her friends.
I was ashamed of myself for losing my cool. And a little grateful that the room was full of ambient noise, enough that only the woman and her friends knew what had happened between us. Maybe another table, but that was about it. The kids and Mark never heard it.
I walked very deliberately towards the stage. I could feel the woman and her friends watching me. I told Mark what had happened and turned and pointed to the woman. He studied her. She and her friends finished packing up and left.
“Do I need to go over there and do something?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said. “I don’t think she’ll bother another autism parent again in her life.”