Do you remember that TV show “Kids Say the Darndest Things?” It was a show, hosted by Bill Cosby, that ran over a decade ago in which the host would ask kids questions in hopes of getting them to say something funny or inappropriate.
Well, you don’t have to put my daughter, Lizzie, on a TV show to get her to say something inappropriate. Inappropriate comments flow so freely out of her sweet little mouth that I sometimes find myself thinking, “We worked so, so hard to get you to talk, and seriously, is this what you are going to say?!!!!”
Having a child with autism causes every subject to be laid out on the table for discussion. There is no ability to dance around a topic or keep hush-hush on any subject. Every topic, regardless of how socially inappropriate, is thrust out in the open to be discussed with no filter on what might be said. For Lizzie, her thoughts and her words are one and the same, and sometimes her words can catch me completely off guard.
A few years ago, my grandmother died. Before she died, we visited her often. Lizzie had a really hard time understanding her death. Death is so abstract and uncertain, and she had questions that no one could answer: “Exactly how old are people when they die?” “Why does someone die?” “Where is heaven?” “What does heaven look like?”
We tried to answer her questions the best we could, but there was not much concrete information to give on this subject. She began obsessing with when a person was going to die so much that we finally told her that most people die when they are around 100 years old. Comforted by the absolute of that number, she finally dropped the subject.
A few weeks later, my husband Greg’s Grandma was in town. Lizzie asked her how old she was. When Grandma proudly answered, “I am ninety years old,” Lizzie promptly informed her, “You are going to die in 10 years!” As I did everything possible to hide my dismay, Grandma said, “Oh honey, I hope I don’t live that long!”
A week or two later, we were walking in a large empty corridor at church. Empty that is, except for this man and his elderly father. As we walked by, Lizzie came to a sudden halt. She made an abrupt turn towards the elderly man and in her booming loud voice, she pointed at the old man and commanded, “THAT MAN IS GOING TO DIE SOON!”
Sometimes the situation is beyond my control. I just have to laugh because if I think about it too much, I may never leave the house again!
Two weeks ago, we decided to take our kids to downtown Dallas to help feed the homeless. We thought this was a wonderful opportunity to teach our kids about serving others. Lizzie handed out the silverware to each person with a smile, and her enthusiasm gained her quite a few admirers.
I loved how Lizzie didn’t seem to notice the ragged clothes, missing teeth, and smell of body odor as she served. She treated each homeless person as we all should…as an equal. We had a blast helping out, and Greg and I really felt we had done something good with our family that day.
I didn’t think that Lizzie had made any assumptions at all about homeless people, but once again she proved me wrong at the most inopportune time.
Not even a week had gone by, and we had invited our new sweet friends over for lunch. These new friends just happened to be African American. The first thing out of Lizzie’s mouth as we introduced them was, “Are you homeless?” Gasp…. And that’s how we welcome people to our home??!!
Thankfully these friends also have a child with autism and weren’t offended by Lizzie’s incorrect and offensive assumption. We will now add, “Are you homeless?” to the ever-growing list of things Lizzie is not allowed to say to anyone, anywhere at anytime. This list also includes:
• “You are going to die soon.”
• “Is there a baby in your belly?” to women and to men
• “There must be a lot of hamburgers in your big belly.”
• “Is your wife’s baby going to be cut out or will he come out the extra hole?”
• “It is time for you to find a new best friend. I think Lillie might like to be your new BFF.”
• “Mommy, you have a very big bottom.”
• “Your face looks like you have really a lot of wrinkles.”
• “This is a really small house you live in.”
• You can’t go on vacation because your dad has no job, and you don’t have enough money.”
• “When are you leaving? It is time for you to go home now!”
• “Are you a boy or a girl?”
I could keep the list going, but we would be here all night. Instead, want to join me in working on a new reality TV show, “Kids with Autism Say the Darndest Things?”
Julie Hornok has been married to her wonderful husband, Greg, for 15 years and is the mother of three children, Andrew, Lizzie and Noah. Lizzie was diagnosed with moderate autism at 2 years old and now, at age 9, is mainstreamed in school and enthusiastically enjoys relationships with friends and family. Julie feels blessed that her daughter has come so far and enjoys spending her free time helping moms with a new autism diagnosis and sharing the small bits of wisdom she has learned along the way. Julie also loves to give back to the community by putting together special needs events. Feel free to see Lizzie’s progress on video on her blog www.lizziehornok.blogspot.com.