Image: This photograph, taken from pedcenter.net, features my dream waiting room. As a parent of a special needs child who has difficulty waiting for appointments, I wish all waiting rooms looked like this one--empty, full of toys, and overseen by a friendly receptionist. (caption by J. lorenzen)
Note: This excerpt from Jon's Booklet, Same, Child Different Day: One family's experiences during the first year after a child's autism diagnosis is a follow up to the previous post that is part of a series on dads and creative storytelling. I think I lot of us parents who have children on the spectrum can identify with this story about a doctor's appointment, a waiting room, and an unfriendly staffer.
Last year we visited a pediatric eye clinic in Williston, Vermont which I have to assume is staffed with at least minimally-trained health care personnel. It was time for Nolan and our four-year-old Madison to have their exams and the office is a solid two hour drive from our home in Rutland. For even the most patient child, this can be a long trip. So when we unloaded and found our way into the 'play' portion of the waiting room, the little ones were ready to unwind.
Nolan can get rambunctious and loud to say the least and this event was no different. When it came time to bring each of the little ones in for their pre-checks, it quickly became obvious that we should handle the observations one at a time. Lori and I were trying to be courteous to the staff since we know how he can get, so she and our older daughter took Mad in first. The office professional made a quiet comment about Nolan's clamor, but at the time I found it innocent; I don't even recall all that she said.
The doctor drew the straw that would award her Nolan and me, and we followed her into a spacious office. He was rattled and didn't care for the dark, but the Doc was patient and assured me she is familiar with Autistic kids. This was obvious by how quickly and smoothly the first check went, even though we struggled a bit to get the dilating drops in my boy's eyes. The Doc then sent us into the waiting room to let the meds do their job for a half hour or so.
Nolan was back to himself in no time; not out of control, but probably a little intimidating to anyone outside looking in. The staff member who had greeted us even came by to close the door to our section of the room; a bad omen that might explain why the little girl who wanted to come in with us either would not or could not.
After the drops did their job, each of our 'teams' took turns visiting with the Doc and she told us when she'd like to see everyone back.
"I'll need to see Madison in a year, and since his eyes are good, we'll give Nolan a break. We'll see him in two," she told us."You mean, you'll be bringing him back to the office?" asked the staff lady. I thought she was joking."
Yes," I told her. "As a matter of fact, I'll be leaving him in your office." I was grinning; she wasn't any more.
"Well, call ahead," she chirped. "I'll take that day off." Maybe I'm just Mr. Innocent and wouldn't want to think that someone was being cruel on purpose; especially not someone in the medical profession who has seen all kinds. I shrugged it off.
Apparently, she had been serious and was under the impression that we are raising a misbehaving child. As we were donning our jackets, she came up behind me sheepishly and said, "I am sooo soooory. I had no idea he was Autistic."
Not 'was'; 'IS'. It didn't go away since we got to the door. And had someone queued this ignorant woman in, because we did not.
In typical 'Jon' fashion I only said, "Yes, he is." I didn't ream her out; I didn't scold her or call her a name or even imply that she was an ignoramus. I just let it go. Maybe I'm sick of it. Maybe I didn't see the point. Instead, we talked about Autism t-shirts that explain the condition and the dumb things some people can say. I bit my tongue.
Okay, here's the scoop: Nolan is a little boy who deserves to experience everything you do: restaurants, playgrounds, malls, and even doctor appointments --- where you would think the most seasoned, trained and compassionate of all people hang out. I don't think I'm going to get him a t-shirt that labels his autism. Instead, I think there's a market for a better shirt; let's try: I'm insensitive. I have no excuse."