A fierce debate on an internet forum yesterday has left me feeling quite shaky about the way the world views young people like son 2.
It is a fact of life that older people with learning difficulties can display behaviours which might be considered cute or quirky in a younger child, but are perceived as threatening in a bigger person. It is something that every carer is painfully aware of and the reason why every trip outside is planned with military precision and a view to risk assessment, including potential risk to the public. Nothing in our life can be spontaneous.
But a lot of our young people can be friendly in a way which is not age appropriate. I'm not talking about sexual here, that is a different matter altogether and should never be tolerated. But son 2 might suddenly stretch out a hand to gently stroke someone's arm for example. It his way of showing friendship and is the reflex reaction of a small child. Son 2 might be 14 but he has the cognitive function of a four year old and the social awareness of less than a two year old. I try always to be aware of this possibility, but if I am on my own with him I can't be standing on both sides to prevent it. He is also over 9 stone and too strong for me to physically move him away, as I could when he was smaller and before I wrecked my back doing so. On the rare occasions it happens, we firmly tell him no, apologise profusely and explain he is autistic. I have never yet met a negative reaction from the public if I do this.
Now of course we all understand about personal space and indeed son 2's school have done a lot of work with him on that very subject. But to find some people on a special needs forum stating that they would consider such a gentle touch to be assault, has rocked me to my core. It has made me question whether I should take son 2 out at all on my own, yet often there is no choice and our rare trips out together are limited to very familiar places anyway. Of course I appreciate there are two sides to every story, I do understand that other people don't want to be touched. I certainly do not condone such behaviour and do my best to prevent it, but it would seem that for some people that is not good enough.
Yesterday, after reading the forum I collected him from playscheme. In order to do so I had to park in the neighbouring supermarket car park and walking him back through, I found myself struggling not only with the usual worry of keeping him away from cars, but now from people as well (and those two aims are not really compatible anyway.)
So where do we go from here? Do I never take him out? Or do I risk a member of the public accusing him of assault? He is 14 now and about to hit a delayed puberty, it is a problem that will only get worse as he gets older, even though he is a child who is considered by all his teachers and carers to be very gentle and actually vulnerable himself. That gentleness is something we have worked so hard over the years to achieve, but now the world seems to want to throw it back in our face.
Sometimes your best just seems not to be good enough.