If you've never seen "Keeping Up Appearances," this classic British comedy from the early 90s is wonderfully funny. Hyacinth Bucket (which she insists is pronounced BOUQUET) is always trying to appear more upper class than she and her long-suffering husband Richard really are. In fact, they're just your average, middle class couple with a grown son (Sheridan, always away at college, always asking for money, and a serious blind spot in Hyacinth's socially acceptable radar), and the extended family that Hyacinth finds to be waaaaay below her pretensions to social status.
Now why is this on my mind? It's related to Safety Guy. Only he has the opposite problem to Hyacinth Bucket (excuse me, BOUQUET) - he is mostly oblivious to appearances. Teaching him to navigate the social ocean means trying to teach him that appearances do matter sometimes, and that how other people see him is important to some degree.
This social minefield was much easier to deal with when he was little. People don't have as many preconceived notions about little boys as they do about teenagers and young men, at least not notions that may lead them to assume the worst about them. Young men are often unfairly suspected of sleazy motives and inappropriate behavior. I've had awful thoughts about how various scenarios could play out in Safety Guy's life as he grows up due to his lack of social understanding. He just doesn't see how others could perceive his actions as negative or hurtful or careless. That frightens me.
Then there are the news stories that occasionally come up where the person accused of a crime also has Aspergers. I always cringe when I hear the newscasters say that the suspect has Aspergers. Often the suspect's Aspergers is inferred to be part of the cause of the crime, or a mental deficiency that limits the person's responsibility for their actions. I'm not sure what to think of the "Aspergers Defense" when a crime has been committed. I know our son knows right from wrong, but I also know he doesn't see the world the same way most people do, and sometimes doesn't react the way the world expects him to. Some people fear racial profiling. I fear profiling based on our son's autism.
I feel like I have to teach our son to "pass" as "normal" in a world that is primed and ready to think the worst of him because he's a big young man and to distrust or think less of him because of his Aspergers.
But I am also grateful for the people who give our son the chance to explain himself when he doesn't understand the ramifications of his actions, and who help him make better choices in the future. These are the kind of people I hope our son runs into more often than the ones who will be quick to judge him as defective or assume he is potentially delinquent or incompetent due to his autism spectrum disorder. I really, really appreciate our friends and neighbors who take the time to explain things to Safety Guy, and who will approach us with concerns about his behavior without condemnation or drama. The people who will say, "Hey, I think you should know about this and talk with Safety Guy about it." These people care about him and his future.
To them I say again, THANK YOU.