Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who Are They?

I am conscious of my sensitivity to words. I try to be mindful of it, and to realize that people, including myself, have slips of the tongue, moments of being inarticulate. I try to be less sensitive.

But I feel a little chafed lately by a four letter word.

We see a dentist who performs miracles with my son, because he loves his job, loves kids, and specializes in pediatric dentistry for children who have special needs. When his nurse accidentally gave the Roo a flouride treatment his chart said he should not have, the dentist blanched. Reading a scary look on his face, I asked why that was such a big problem. "Well," he said, "THEY, you know, with metals, THEY..." and he cocked his head toward my child. "We try not to give THEM those treatments because sometimes severly autistic kids..."

For some reason, I reassured him. I think I wanted him to simply stop talking. What was done was done. There was no point to saying my son is not "severly autistic" because I don't even really know what that means, and thanks to Christine I understand how objectionable and ambiguous terms like "high functioning" sound. I could not undo what the nurse had done, and I didn't really even know how a big a deal it was - I'd have to figure that out later - I just wanted the dentist to stop talking because his pronouns made me feel a little novicained and queasy.

I like our dentist, and I like the teachers at my son's school. I know they try hard to help my boy, and they value inclusion of all kinds of kids. But when Roo got hurt at school last week, a teacher called me very worried. "I think his nose is bleeding because he banged it, but since they don't feel pain like other people... I mean, I just don't know how badly he is hurt because I know they can't feel pain, and I just want to be sure he does not have a head injury."

At the phrase "head injury," I flew out of work to go to my boy, no time to explain that my son, and many kids with autism, feel pain, and made sure my boy's nosebleed was just a nosebleed. It was. I found him weeping, because it hurt. I wanted to cry too -- the "theys" were getting to me.

They say April is the cruellest month, and I have to say our April of dentists, dramas, disasters, bullies and booboos lived up to that. On the one hand, I was probably too sensitive amid the chaos. On the other hand, April was autism awareness month, and I'm not sure I was as good of an advocate as I should have been. Next time, I want to do better. Next time, I hope to embrace the teachable moments better, not let the "theys" slide.

Is it me, or sometimes is "they" is a four letter word that hurts?


kristi said...

It is not just you, some comments made by my own family have hurt me deeply. Hugs!

Christine said...

I just had this same conversation with someone recently. People I like and trust -- people who LOVE Oliver -- call him a "they." And every time I hear it I have to remind myself to remain calm. If you -- or someone reading this -- comes up with a good response I'd love to have it at the ready!

jess said...

I absolutely get this. The moment I fell in love with Brooke's neuropsych was the first time I heard him refer (as I discovered that he ALWAYS does) to 'our kids'. (And never in sweeping generalizations)

I was fresh from a world of 'theys' and grateful for the sensitivity.

And like you, i've got high hopes for May ;)

One Mom said...

It's certainly not just you. I've fielded many comments like these, and there's no doubt the word can sting.

pixiemama said...

You're not overly sensitive. I, too, read Christine's post and was beside myself - of course there is no distinction. There is no "they." Our children are beautiful little individuals, just like everyone else. They are not "theys." Each and every one of our children is simply more than that. Thank goodness you have the eloquence I'm lacking at this second!

kim mccafferty said...

With regards to autism, "they" and "them" are four letter words. I too kick myself however when I'm too caught up by the implications of what's been said to try to enlighten that individual in a positive manner. Sometimes, it's just too much to ask...

kim mccafferty said...

If you get a chance please check out today, I wrote a blurb about your blog. Thanks again!


Jenn E said...

I hate the sweeping generalizations. No two kids are alike whether they have autism or not.

I hear ya!