Autism and restaurants – my first experience with discrimination

I can’t remember how old I was. I think I was 13 or 14. So it wasn’t very long after Karan received his autism diagnosis.

The semblance of “normal life” was slowly slipping away from our family. We’d stopped doing random things we used to do together. Gone were trips to the cinema, gone were long drives, and something that completely shattered our going out to restaurants happened.

One night, we’d decided to go out for a meal. We went to an Indian, vegetarian restaurant in Dubai, that we used to frequent a lot many years ago. Karan was still 4 or 5 at this time.

We sat down to eat, placed our order. Karan started whining a little bit; we realized eventually it was the noise in the restaurant bothering him. He kept crying for a bit, as we tried to calm him down. It didn’t work immediately; his diagnosis was new enough that we were still at a learning curve, still working out how to handle him.

After a lot of stares, mutterings and pointed glares, the restaurant manager came over to our table.

We pretty much got kicked out of the restaurant.

Apparently the other diners complained about my brother and the nuisance he was causing, and the manager said it was better we left. When we tried to protest and explain the situation (“this child has special needs” etc), we heard a rather loud: “Why don’t they keep their retarded children at home?” comment.

We left.

I think it scarred us for life. We tried going to another restaurant weeks later, but as soon as Karan kicked up a fuss, we upped and left. Perhaps my parents didn’t want a repeat getting-thrown-out scenario. We’ve never really gone to a restaurant since. Food courts yes (let’s face it, even if Karan screams like a banshee, no one’s going to hear him there), restaurants no.

I accept it wasn’t completely the manager’s fault; I imagine the diners were having a go at him and upset about their meal being “spoiled” by the crying child. But there was clearly no policy on dealing with situations like this. Yes, it was a nascent time then for special needs, but oh lord, how it hurt. How it hurt.

I don’t blame my parents for leaving. But I now realize that had I been older and in a position to make the decision, I would not have left. My mother and I have realized (in hindsight), that there’s no point in tucking our tails between our legs and running. It’s important to stand and fight.

You might say, surely we have a responsibility to not bother other people.

Well, I’m SORRY if my brother’s autism bothers you, but frankly, I’m just going to tell you to get stuffed. Who the hell are you to tell me that you’re entitled to enjoy a meal with your family at a nice place, and I am not? My brother is not?

Now you’ll say, well he was crying anyway so he clearly wasn’t enjoying it. No, he wasn’t. I agree. My point is, with autism, he needs to be exposed to “normal” things that everyone else is. I want him to go out, I want him to experience what everyone else does. By shutting ourselves at home, we’re just segregating ourselves more than YOU are already doing with your behaviour towards us.

So yes, I will take Karan to restaurants and places where he may cry or kick up a fuss. I will stay as long as I can with him to acclimatise him to the surroundings because it is important to him, and to us. For example, I took him to Chili’s on his birthday a few years ago; we got him molten chocolate cake to celebrate (he loved the cake there FYI). He did make a little noise (happy noises to be fair!) and kept trying to bang the cutlery on the table, but if anyone looked at us oddly, I glared back. It’s my thing.

I dare you to tell me to leave. I’m older, bigger and frankly, have had it with your shit.

Oh and that restaurant that told us they’d rather we left before they evicted us? We never frequented it again.

Cross-posted on FooDee

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A mother’s thoughts on Autism Awareness Day

Guest post by Adita Divecha, Karan’s mother

I have not been able to put down my thoughts for a long time now. Don’t know why. Something always came up, or my thoughts were always muddled, or I was just being plain lazy. My daughter Devina is always encouraging me to write more and I keep on procrastinating. So anyway here I am trying to say things which I hope make sense.
Last month my son Karan celebrated his 16th birthday. He cut his birthday cake with his friends and teachers at his school and enjoyed himself. His teachers took photos of him cutting the cake, even smeared his face with cake and he did not get upset. As I watched my tall (he towers over me) and handsome son walk with me to the car, I realized how much he had progressed over the years. Of course there are still many more things to be achieved but we will get there soon.

Also, to digress a little, I realized suddenly after so many years that Karan would have been in the 10th grade if he had not been the special child that he is. I mean for all these years I have never really thought about this. And also even now I realized this just because my niece, Ananya, who is 4 months older to Karan, was having her 10th grade exams. And I was relieved I did not have to go through the tension I felt my sister-in-law Madhavi was going through because of her daughter’s exams. I don’t even know if I am right in feeling like this.

I think my chain of thoughts are still muddled. I was talking about Karan’s progress. We tend to celebrate every little thing that he achieves. I still remember how he used to scream when we would throw a ball to him. It is now a thing of the past: he loves to dribble the ball and throw it into the basket now.

He has mastered the concept of drinking with a straw after a long time. He just would not understand how to suck, something we just take for granted. So this was quite an achievement.

And the greatest achievement of all…He is toilet trained but was still wearing diapers at night as he still did not understand how to go to the toilet at night if he needed to. Then suddenly one fine day – I mean night – he suddenly figured out he just had to get up and go to the toilet if he needed to and that there was no need to wear a diaper. How we screamed in happiness. Now I am just waiting for him to achieve the next step of being able to clean himself. I am sure he will achieve this too.

He loves to paint and his brush strokes are getting better and better and he really looks forward to and enjoys his weekly outing to the START Workshops he attends. Also he enjoys beading and so likes to sit and make necklaces and bracelets. We have also introduced him to the iPad which I hope will improve his communication skills.
He likes to sit in the front seat of the car while going to and from school. He puts on his seatbelt as soon as he enters the car and then puts on the music. He does not like me talking on the phone so if it rings he puts his hand on my mouth, as if to say “No talking”. Very smart boy.

So on Autism Awareness Day, I ask you to educate yourself a little bit more on this enigma called autism…now that the latest figures are showing 1 in 88 children have it, it’s highly likely you will know someone who is autistic.

So go on, I’ve laid my thoughts bare for you…ask me anything you want to know. Perhaps with spreading knowledge, will I get acceptance for my smart son.