WILDER'S WHOLE WORLD: Two experiences that touched me deeply

By Dwayne Wilder
Special to the Herald Democrat

I try to stay away from controversial subjects in this space (the ones I know about), but occasionally, something happens that requires me to speak on a subject. This is an on-going conflict for me, and recently, an episode played out in public. I was there and I want to discuss it…

During this discussion, I am not intending to put anyone down. I am speaking in general terms and what I hope for society as a whole. I am not belittling any specific person. If anything, I am belittling the current state of humanity.

I would never think these two incidents would happen to me on the same day, but they did. Basically, it was the universe yelling at me to ‘take notice of something in your environment.’ The subject is bothersome to me, and I wish more people would act accordingly. No, I wish more people would think accordingly when these things happen in front of them, too.

A young girl and her father were in a store. It was early and not noisy. Within seconds, all you could hear was this little girl not minding anything her father said. She wasn’t ‘running amok, but she was active. He did have to stop to take something from her hand several times. After a few minutes, it was all the other people in the store that got my attention.

There was comment after comment about her behavior and the fact that "That man has a lot of patience to put up with her" among others. Now, I don’t know what was going through anyone’s mind, but it didn’t seem to me that anyone was viewing the situation as anything other than a behavioral problem. There was outright contempt for someone else’s parenting strategy. There was pity for the girl, and there was anger that it got in the way of their shopping.

Now, if there was anyone in that store at the time who was thinking anything else, I am personally saying, "I am sorry" for lumping you in with all the others…because I was thinking something else, too.

Except for a couple of breaks, I have spent the past 16 years working in a special-needs classroom in public schools. I’m not a saint or have much patience at times, but I like working with these students. Nothing I ever do will "cure" them, but like the other professionals in the classroom, we do our best to help them gain skills to adapt and survive this life of ours.

Sometimes, medication is part of the solution.

From the first outburst and statement I heard, I knew the little girl was autistic. Yes, most autistic kids are male, but there are girls. And, there are varying degrees as well. In my time working special needs children, I have learned that there are autistic twins as well. And, some are also girls! Imagine twins with autism—Wow!

(And there are social media platforms and support groups just for parents of these special children—Who knew?!)

The father was doing the best he could with the situation. Her motivations were not behavioral in nature but chemical, as in brain chemistry. Autistic children don’t view the world as others do. 

Autism is a communication disorder, and that includes stimuli communicating what is happening in our environment. She wasn’t grabbing at items and wanting toys because she was spoiled. No, she doesn’t see that environment in the same way others do. For many autistic children, the brain doesn’t allow for any interpretations to become ‘good behavior in public.’

Of course, I’m not an expert on autism, but I know the basics. She is a classic autistic child; and not many people in that store saw her that way. We both left the store about the same time, and I didn’t think about the incident anymore.

Then I went to lunch, which I considered in another line of thought during the day before. I was going to be in McKinney and wondered if Hugs was still open. I vowed if so that I would go there for lunch. If you haven’t heard of this special restaurant, you should give it a try. It was opened to be a place for people with developmental disabilities — such as autism — to work and give a sense of purpose in life. They stock the supplies, make the food, wait tables, and help customers including working at the register. It is a great sight to see.

After being served and helped by a variety of young people — autistic and otherwise — I left feeling incredible about the concept and so glad that someone saw these "disabled" as people with talents.

If given the chance, they can succeed.

Yes, there are serious mental and physical birth defects and differences in which the child can’t do simple tasks such as making a sandwich, but there is a range where the child can do necessary tasks; and those children/young people should have that opportunity.

As a society, we should believe that they have that chance...just like anyone else. That’s when the morning episode hit me, and the mindset that the little girl in the store was "hopeless" and a "problem."

But no, she’s not. Given time and caring individuals, she too, can prosper and thrive in the world. She just has to find her place someday…

…and people who will help guide her there.

Dwayne Wilder

Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at cmandad17@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.