Thursday, April 10, 2008

Caution: Child With Autism

Caution: Child With Autism
or The Yellow Shirt
By Kimberly Jensen

The bleachers were full of eager parents ready to watch their children perform in the annual “Foreign Language Festival” at the local junior high school. Many held cameras as they searched the sea of students for their child, hoping to wave to them discreetly so their friends wouldn’t see. Parents of junior high school kids know that anything they say or do will humiliate their child. But in our family, it’s not mom and dad our older two children are afraid will do something embarrassing, it’s their little brother, Bennett, and he never lets them down.
We filed into the packed gymnasium and headed to the top of the bleachers and found a seat behind a lady wearing a bright green velour jacket. Bennett was not happy. He stomped loudly on the bleachers, bringing his Converse-clad feet down hard enough for the stomp to be heard among the high pitched din. He was upset because he didn’t get to go with “the boys.” Bennett’s older brother and his friend were in the junior high school program and Bennett, being three years younger was not. Bennett stomped on the bleachers even after he had sat down to make sure I understood that he was upset.
“Twinkle, Twinkle stupid little star…” Bennett began to sing.
It was the first time I had heard the version but it was done in the same tune of his attitude. The lady in the green velour jacket turned around, glanced at Bennett and then at his yellow shirt and then turned back around unperturbed.
The program began with a Spanish Song from Mrs. Krebs ninth grade students. They sang a song about a frog a fly and a spider and a young girl in a green hat with wiggly eyeballs danced across the gym floor keeping Bennett entertained and even brought a small smile to his face.
The seventh graders began their performance and Bennett decided it was time to crawl under the bleachers and beneath my legs. The song was too loud for his ears so he stayed under my legs until the voices stopped singing.
When the 8th graders came to center stage, Bennett was done. He walked quickly down the row where we were seated on the bleachers and stepped on toes, knocked knees and mowed his way through about six people yelling, “Move it. Move it. Move it,” as he barreled his way through the crowed.
People looked up at him in shock and annoyance until they looked a little closer at his bold yellow shirt that could not be ignored. In huge black print, there was a caution sign on the front of his shirt and printed boldly below it read, “Caution, child with autism, expect the unexpected.”
I actually saw people smile and relax as they read his shirt and they let my boy pass without another word.
My son’s t-shirt provided a quick lesson in autism and I didn’t have to say a word. Isn’t silence golden….I mean yellow.


Shirley Bahlmann said...

What a clever Mommy you are! It helps people to know what's going on when there is no obvious reason. I think I need one of those t-shirts, but mine would read, "Caution: Maturity challenged adult. Stops at playgrounds."

Marcia Mickelson said...

Smart shirt. It must make it easier than having to explain it to people. It probably helped them be more understanding.

Mary Stosich said...

What a pleasure to read your blog. My heart dissolved for Bennet and you. I fall way short of understanding what it would be like to be in your shoes, but please be patient with me when I tell you there is a piece of me that envies what you are doing and learning and feeling. Just so you know, after reading that, I love Bennet.

Doug Johnston said...

Have you read Keeping Keller yet? EVERYONE I have talked to said this is one of the best books on autism out there. Plus, Tracy Winegar is a great woman.

Terri Ferran said...

What an awesome idea for the yellow shirt! We are often too quick to judge & when we know all the facts, it can be so humbling.

Alison Palmer said...

While I'm rejoicing with you at your cleverness (love the shirt) I'm also rejoicing that we've finally come far enough in this society are more aware now what it really does mean to be autistic. They still don't "get" a lot of it, but they do become more tolerant just knowing that an autistic's world is just fine with them- it's just different from the norm.

Janet Kay Jensen said...

What a great perspective! You're following the "each one teach one" philosophy and also setting a wonderful example for the rest of us.

Tracy Winegar said...

I need one of those shirts!!! Where did you get it? I told someone I wanted a shirt that said "I'm Autistic" for when we went out in public and they thought I was being disrespectful for saying so. Thank you for proving me right.

Kimberly Jensen said...

For those interested in obtaining a yellow shirt..they were designed by the ever fabulous mom of Carson Smith, Cheryl Smith. She is a tireless advocate for children with autism. She can be contact through the Autism Society of Utah...or come to the walk at Cottonwood High School on May 3rd for Autism at 10am and they will be for sale!