A recent series of conflicts left me seriously doubting humanity. With each twist and turn of kindness and flexibly I tried to show, I was slapped in the face with an attitude of entitlement and more demands made in an ugly and hurtful way.
Because I am still pretty irritated with the whole situation, it would give me great satisfaction to list my every right and her every wrong just to make you see how hard I tried to do the right thing. I would also love to share the list of funny (and not so funny) ways I have creatively crafted in my mind to get back at her. But at some point, I need to consciously stop thinking about it and choose to focus my energy on the good I can do in the world instead.
Sometimes I think autism helps me quickly get to bottom of a person’s true character. If someone is kind and welcoming to Lizzie, then I know they have a good heart and can likely be trusted. But if they show irritation or choose to talk down to her, then I know pretty quickly that I need to be on guard with them in other areas of life as well.
A few years ago, Lizzie was obsessed with the curbside storm drains in the neighborhood streets. She would get down on all fours, peek in the drain with a strange look on her face, and then stand back up completely unsatisfied. We would go on walks counting the drains around the neighborhood, and I would try over and over and over to explain to her what they were.
And when it rained, well…you can only imagine the excitement in my house! We got on our rain gear and did what everyone does during a torrential downpour…headed out to the nearest storm drain! I can only imagine the thoughts going through peoples’ minds when they passed by. There I was standing with my umbrella over a little girl dressed in sassy pink polka-dotted boots, laying flat on her belly in the street with an ear-to-ear grin as she watched the water rush down the drain.
This obsession went on for quite some time, and nothing seemed to help her understand the drain system. I am sure the city thought it quite strange when someone called them up and asked to speak to the “drain engineer.” As I poured my heart out to the receptionist telling her about my drain problem, and how we were consistently subjecting ourselves to thunderstorms, I was quite shocked to find out that “drain engineer” wasn’t even a real title. None the less, they directed me to someone who was able to help me.
All I asked for was a copy of some type of storm drain system map to help explain things to Lizzie. Knowing she is very visual, I was hoping this might finally save us from joining the 2000 people a year that get struck by lightening. The drain man (with a way more complicated title than I can remember) did us one better. He told me he would love to come by our home and give us a drain lesson complete with our own laminated drain route for our neighborhood!
Upon his arrival, I warned him that he might not get a “feel good” reaction from Lizzie, and she might not appear to be listening. He patiently and kindly in simple language showed her how the drains in our neighborhood worked. Lizzie didn’t thank him, smile at him or even look at him for that matter. He didn’t stop when she wasn’t responding the way he thought she should. He could have handed me the map and walked out the door when she didn’t show him the respect he deserved. But he didn’t because he realized that sometimes you keep doing the right thing only because it is the right thing!
After the drain man left, Lizzie stared at the map for a little while and then tossed it on the floor. She never talked about drains again.
Now each time it rains, instead of hustling around the house to gear up to look at drains, I am free to curl up in a chair with a blanket and think about how I could have handled my recent conflict better. Sometimes what I do should not depend on the response I get from others. The kind drain man will help me to remember that I need to do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do.
Julie Hornok has been married to her wonderful husband, Greg, for 14 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.