Today was the third day back to school for my son with autism. We've been off for a year due to horrible health issues that have led to him losing his sight. Getting back into the swing of things and being amongst people are all things we must relearn.
My son has some of the typical sensory issues with clothes many kids with autism do. Hates tags in his shirts or shorts. Doesn't wear underwear anymore because a counselor suggested we simply get rid of them to stop him from rearranging the underwear because he was sensitive to it.
He never was fussy as to what he wore even when he could see it. He preferred sweat pants over jeans. Didn't demand name brand expensive sneakers. Probably would have worn the same sneakers till they fell apart and getting him to try on a new pair was a battle. A smile would appear if you produced a cartoon character t-shirt such as "Ren and Stimpy" or "Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham". Other than that, what company logo was on the shirt made no never-mind to him. Being "Cool" or fitting in with the other kids in school with regard to fashion just didn't matter. Im not ashamed to say I shopped at Target or Kmart. He always looked clean and neat and appropriate.
So on Tuesday after we re-appeared on the school scene and I dropped him off, I made a trip to the local outlet stores. Having been stuck in the house for over a year, I was thrilled to be flipping through the sale racks of clothing in the Aeropostale store. I was even more thrilled to find that the shirts that originally marked $34.50 each had been knocked down to $7.99 and $5.99. Woo-hoo. I'm on a roll. I gather up as many as I can find in the XXL size and head for the register. "You know," the sales clerk comments, "that those are another 50% off the lowest price on the tag." So that means I ended up paying $2.00 and $3.00 for these shirts that originally sold for $34.50. And they are a teen friendly, accepted and desired brand. I took my bounty to the register to check out and was also given a $10 off $50 purchase coupon so I ended up spending $40.00 for about 8 shirts and a $54.50 hoodie! Yes, I am the bargain queen! And he will be with the "in crowd".
The next day he wears one of the new shirts. Looks good and I am happy to see him make his way into school on the arm of his personal care aide/sighted guide. At dismissal time, it was another story. As he climbs into the car I notice a large smear all over the front of the shirt. What is that "schmutz"?, I ask myself.
Used by Jewish mothers to identify that you've got some kind of crap on your face
Mommy: You've got some Schmutz on your face, Oy!
His teacher remarks, "It's Thera-putty", sorry.
I didn't pay much attention at that point and we headed home. But when I went to attack the dreaded "schmutz" on the shirt I started to do a slow boil.
I just bought this shirt. Yeah I only paid $3.00 for it but it's the principle of the thing. I texted the teacher "how do you get this gunk out of clothing?"
"Let me ask the occupational therapist", she replied. For those of you who don't know what Thera-putty is, allow me to explain. It is a stringy sticky mess of stretchy stuff that OTs use for kids with ASD to give them some hand manipulation work. Lord knows what it's supposed to do in the long run, other than make a mess.
"First, she texts, get an ice cube, rub on spot, put some WD40 lubricant on spot, rub some more, get a butter knife and try to scrape off, then rub with rubbing alcohol, then swing a dead chicken over your head while hopping on one foot". (my sarcasm) Point being, good luck getting this mess off your clothes. And if you can get this stuff off I will nominate you to take Mr. Clean's place on TV. The shirt is ruined.
Ok, enough crying over a spilled $3 shirt. A new thought entered my mind. OMG, did he actually walk around school all day looking like that? Was he paraded through the hallways so the other kids, let alone the faculty, viewed the "schmutz" all over his shirt? My mind conjures up conversations being held about the shirt. "What's with that kid?" "Isn't he in the autism class?" "What the heck is all over his shirt?" "Why do they walk him down the hall like that?" "Why does he wear those sunglasses all day inside?" "He probably couldn't see that his shirt was messed up when he put it on this morning." "What type of parent would send a kid to school looking like that?"
My heart starts to ache over the endless possibilities of making fun that he probably endured over the "schmutz shirt".
But then a wave of realization sweeps over me. Having autism and the sub standard social skills that can go with it, he probably was not aware of any such social faux pas. He could not care less if there is gunk on his shirt. He is not out to please anyone. He is not out for their approval. Sure if someone says "I like your shirt" it may or may not please him, but it is certainly not what drives his day. "Judge not lest ye be judged" is his mantra, because he does not discriminate against the few friends he has, be they black or white, skinny or fat or fashionable or fashion geeks. In this case, the autism shields him from hurt.
But this turns my thoughts toward another question. Is he better off knowing or not knowing? Is his lack of understanding sparing him future emotional turmoil that we all experience? My mom used to say:
"where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise". Perhaps that is true.