In short, I was very, very wrong and owe those parents a giant apology. Because as a caregiver for a child on the spectrum, I have noticed myself developing that same overwhelming amount of gratitute for the kindness of others. Treat him well and I will be grateful. Play with him, and I will love you forever.
And now I get it. It's not about the child. It's about society. I see the child I care for as every bit as worthy of respect, kindness, and love as any other child. But I've learned, through caring for him, that other people don't always feel the same way. The lady at McDonald's who hunkered down and ignored him. The dad at the park who acted like he didn't want his child to play with the child I care for. The starers - not the ones with the compassionate eyes, but the ones whose eyes look at you in disgust and say, 'Why are you letting this child behave like that?' People seem to show their true colors more often, and WOW there are a lot more intolerant people in the world than I'd realized. It's disheartening.
But every so often, you run into someone who's the opposite. A person who sees the child on the spectrum as someone worthy of care and respect. Because having those sad moments, the moments where you see the darker side of how people treat those who don't fit it, makes the good people stand out even more.
Two days ago, I had the fortune to meet one of those people. And I was just drowning in gratitude. The child I care for had been attempting to play with her boys (which is pretty cool in of itself), but they weren't playing with him. What did she do? She got a game started, with her and the child I care for on one team, and her boys on the other. She patiently coached him through the game, made one of her boys lend him a toy gun so he could play, too. It was a lot of effort for her, and she ran around with them (again, coaching the child every step of the way) for a good twenty minutes, and then helped the child climb up the ropes course.
It was amazing and wonderful, and she didn't have to do any of it...but she did. And she wasn't just playing to play, or for the sake of her children. She did this because you could honestly tell she cared and it mattered to her that the child I care for had fun and a great experience. By the time we had to leave, the child I care for had been able to participate in a game with children his age way more complex than he'd normally be able to do, the mother was all hugs and love (as she'd been through the whole experience), and her boys were begging me not to take him home.
And that overflowing amount of gratitude I mentioned? Two days later I still feel it. And I am eternally grateful. My only regret is I wish there were more such people in the world; we could truly use them. The society I'm working for is one where these moments aren't out of the ordinary, where people understand autism and treat people on the spectrum the way they deserve to be treated.
But in the meanwhile, I am very, very grateful.