“A Middle-Aged Momma Bear Still Roars” appeared earlier this week as a post on my daughter’s Facebook page: Grace Goad | Autism Art
This message is from Momma Bear, aka, my Mom. I don’t communicate by typing or writing or very much at all, verbally. I string about five words together when I am motivated. (“I want a cookie, please!”)
Mom wants to read this message today.
So, as you know I have autism. I am not what those who label would consider “high functioning.” As stated, I am not very verbal. I also have intellectual disAbilities. That is why it is all the more special that I have this gift of visual art. My business is built partially on the ideal of autism awareness, to demonstrate what people with autism/disAbilities can do. To demonstrate, yes, I am quite challenged by autism, but look. Look what I can create. Art is the window to the beauty of people with disAbilities.
And yet, some people cannot see through the window. Hence, yesterday, Mom morphed into Momma Bear.
I was excited when we turned into the driveway of a local gallery that carries my work. I indicated my excitement with a mile-long grin, I probably rocked a little, plus made sing-song babbling sounds of glee. (I do that a lot.) I was happy to be there. The gallery owner was happy to see us, too. We were delivering a particular painting of mine that the owner had requested.
While we were there, a group of middle school girls came into the gallery, which is a place of beauty, wonder, and delight. But instead of noticing that, these girls seemed to fixate on me. I am developmentally delayed and Mom is happy that I rarely hug strangers any more, but I am a little overzealous with shaking people’s hands. I do really well when I am selling my art at a pop-up. I reach across the table of my merchandise, smile widely, and shake people’s hands. It’s a mark of maturity, Mom thinks. I just don’t understand when and where it’s not appropriate to shake hands. Such as the middle school student who walked in first. I was happy to see her, babbled my delight and reached out to shake her hand. Reluctantly, she limply shook my hands. She widened her eyes, stepped back, and proceeded copped a ‘tude. (I didn’t notice. I don’t notice these things.) The girl was soon followed by a peer who came into the gallery behind her. I was excited to see her, too. Mom quickly commented that being the gallery greeter was not my job. More students came in. I was also happy to see them.
They began to giggle, then rushed and ducked into the gallery’s other room—which happens to be where my art is featured. They cupped their pubescent mouths with their hands and laughed some more, especially when I made my happy noises. My Mom knew what was going on and so did the gallery owner. It felt really uncomfortable to them. The owner was about to step in and give the students a stern talking to, but, at that point, their leaders came in and they began to leave. Quickly, Mom grabbed some of my cards that tell about all of my art world accomplishments and she followed them out the door and gave them each one and said: “Here, I’d like for you to have these. Grace has special gifts. I know you do, too.”
But, she was mad. And she stayed that way for a while. I was oblivious. It was really a bit ironic. My work sells so well in this gallery and people tell Mom all the time they go to that area of town for another nearby attraction and then make sure they stop by to purchase some of my merchandise. I am gifted and some people know that. And then others see only that I am not like them.
I have had autism for all of my 21 years. My parents did not learn about it, however, until I was diagnosed at age three. This wasn’t the first or the second or even the 23rd time that something like this has happened. Mom’s got a pretty thick skin. Some days it is thicker than others.
Some families fear their sons and daughters with special needs being made fun of so much that they put them into segregated schools and programs and keep them home and don’t go out much. But Mom believes that is not how the world will learn about people who are different like me. And she knows that I must learn to be in the world by going out into it. She also chooses not to segregate her life and clamp her own joy by not living life as fully as she can. And, she wants that for me, too. It is what we all deserve. She knows that the world is a more artful place when we mingle and mix and celebrate our differences.
This is not meant to be a tale of woe is us. Mom has been thinking a lot lately about how much is taken for granted and that people have no idea the range of enormous challenges families of those with special needs experience in just navigating the everyday. And she wanted to you know about the prejudices we face in just going about our daily lives. And, she adds that the more segregated and sheltered the environment in which a person is raised and lives, the less comfortable and familiar they seem to be with people like me. And yet, children are being diagnosed with autism at an unofficial rate of 1 in 50. (The official rate is 1 in 68. Both figures are from the CDC.) We are here. Diversity is here to stay.
So if you heard a roar yesterday. It was Mom. My Momma Bear.
If you see someone who is different, please don’t stare. Please don’t laugh. (And, I know most of you reading this won’t.) Not every person with a disAbility is as joyously oblivious as me. And, regardless, that person often has a loved one that’s bearing witness all the while. Mom will vouch, it’s doesn’t feel too great. And some families have a lot less coping skills.
Choose love over fear. It wins every time.
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