Parenting on the Spectrum - A Few Words from the Dad at the Next Table that is Ruining Your Night Out
Dear Nice Family Sitting Next To Us at this Unnamed Restaurant,
Your children are well-behaved. Your family is a shining beacon of American values. You are paying good money to eat a flowering onion of fried deliciousness and an oversized plate of food. It was never my intention to disturb you as you sat quietly with your family, slowly realizing as the bloody juices pool on your plate that the silence at your table isn't about us, but is a deeper silence that is revealing the distance that has grown between you and your children. I'm sorry that my child ruined this moment of quiet reflection. Believe me when I tell you that I don't want him lying on the floor as much, or maybe even more, than you.
While you remember that summer when your kid loved you, here are some things you should know...
1) It's okay if you judge us. I'd think we were bad parents too. In fact, judging people is one of my favorite past times. But know this...
2) Parents of autistic children (I'm going to speak for everyone on this without consulting anyone and only use my own experience, you know, like a good journalist) NEVER go out to eat unless they ABSOLUTELY MUST. It is either a special occasion or our refrigerator just exploded, which you could argue is a special occasion. Why don't we go out?
3) Because autistic kids can be really picky about food. Hank loves mac 'n cheese. But not if it's too orange. Or too yellow. Or too any color except for the one color that he imagines it to be. Maybe the noodles are the wrong shape, or length, or texture, or anything. If it isn't exactly right he's done. And even if it is right, there is that whole matter of waiting for the food, which leads me to a mega-brilliant idea...
4) Restaurants should make a fast pass for families on the spectrum. If it's good enough for Disney World it's good enough for your 2-for-$20 establishment. It's tough for any kid to wait for food, but it's borderline unfair to make Hank wait for more than say three minutes. If you can't give us our food within three minutes then for the love of everything you hold dear please bring us a bowl of bread. A bowl of bread is everything. If there was a bowl of bread in the cornucopia I would murder every tribute from every district in less than twelve seconds just to get it. They could all simultaneously spear/arrow/stab me and it wouldn't matter. I'm getting that fucking bread. So rather than turn your restaurant into the arena, could you fast track our food? Trust me, it'll be better for everyone.
5) I'm going to be embarrassed (and not about the bread). Then I'm going to feel bad about feeling embarrassed because Hank isn't purposely having trouble staying seated with has hands folded nicely. It's not his fault we put him into an environment designed for him to fail. It's like telling me we are going to a quiet secluded place and then locking me in a small talk only room. It's not going to work and it'll be awkward for everyone. You can't blame me for not being able to talk to someone for more than twelve seconds....okay, you can. I'm a grown man. But we aren't setting him up for success, and that's on us, so I guess that takes us back to number 1 (unless our refrigerator just exploded).
7) Seriously, it's okay for you to be unhappy that we're sitting next to you. I don't want to be sitting next to us. If I were you, instead of loudly sighing, I'd take these lemons and turn them into a free dessert. But, whatever you do...
8) Please don't say anything to me or my son unless you are going to lie on the floor with him. Otherwise, you are either being passive aggressive or genuinely think you are helping. Either way, you aren't helping. I'll cut you some slack if you just think that I'm a terrible parent and am cool with my kid acting like a little animal and you see yourself as the hero that I deserve and that this restaurant needs. But you aren't. And whatever little coded message you tell him that is really meant for me isn't going to help anyone. In this instance it does not take a village to raise a child.
Again, let me apologize for ruining your magical night of manufactured nostalgia that simply served to remind you how detached you are from the real lives your wife and children are living. That was careless of me. And just remember how lucky you are that your refrigerator didn't explode tonight.
Matt Fotis is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Albright College. He is the author of Long Form Improvisation and American Comedy - The Harold, The Comedy Improv Handbook, and "My Fragile Family Tree: Stories of Fathers & Sons."