Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Pardner is a chef and recently texted me during dinner service about a nice family that was at the restaurant. He said he’d been observing them, from his open kitchen, and he thought the teenage son was “very lovable” and “probably had asperger’s.” He mentioned that the kid had told the server that he wanted to come back and visit the chef after dinner, and was hoping that was okay with Chef. Pardner being a cheery and accommodating fellow, it certainly was.

An hour or so later, Pardner texted me again. This time he told me that the father of the teenager had turned out to be “a jerk.” When he came home (late – argh), he told me more about what had happened. Apparently, this Dad hadn’t let his son visit with Chef, and had been short with the server. Somehow over the course of the meal, his personality had changed.

I was really surprised, but I was also sleepy.

In the morning, I asked for more detail. It turns out that the server, a well-meaning and sweet person who has some experience with children, had engaged this family in friendly conversation. When she found out they were not local, she’d asked why they were in the area and they’d said they were looking at schools.

“Oh!” she said. “The ____ School?”

The ___ School is a school for children with special needs.

“Well, there you go,” I said, feeling a little sick to my stomach for that family.

“What?” retorted Pardner, completely dumbfounded and baffled.

“You don’t even get it, do you?” I replied, nicely.

Shut the Front Door.

Imagine you are a family. Maybe you have a child who is “different”…but you want that child to have every opportunity. So you take them out to a fancy restaurant. Part of you, hypothetically, is praying that your child is not disruptive in any way. Another part of you feels that your child has as much right to be in a restaurant as anyone else. Part of you, again, hypothetically speaking, celebrates your child EXACTLY AS HE OR SHE IS; another part (probably much smaller but still there, okay?) desperately wants your child to fit in, to be accepted, to be able to “pass.”

So you are eating your dinner. Maybe it’s been an intense day with interviews, maybe with wondering if your child is “too different” or “less different” than other kids at the potential school. Maybe you just want to eat some ding dang dinner in peace. And your chipper, cute, 20-something server just – out of the blue, basically; trying to be “compassionate,” or “knowledgeable,” or whatever  - busts out with her “understanding” information.

Because, obviously, your child needs to go to the “Special” school, right????

“Really?” Pardner asked, after I explained this to him through my tears. I felt so bad for that poor father, and the kid, who’d been pigeonholed, albeit by someone with nothing but good intentions. “Hmm. He didn’t leave a very good tip.”

“See?” That was the final proof for me. Even though that server had done her best vis-à-vis her actual job, and probably deserved the great tip she usually would’ve gotten, her presumption had not served anybody well.

Full Spectrum Mama

P.S. The ____ School is a fantabulous school. That's not the point.

P.P.S. Please also see "ON WRITING" for an update on this post!


  1. I agree that the server's question, though well-intentioned, was inappropriate. And I understand why the dad, conditioned by years of thoughtless and/or malicious comments in public places, reacted as he did.

    And yet ... I can't help thinking that the dad's reaction was, in practical terms, more destructive than simply letting the question slide by would have been: 1) it ruined the mood of what had until then been a joyful, celebratory dinner for his family; and 2) it deprived his son of what could have been a fun, educational, enlightening insider's tour of the restaurant's kitchen.

    Please don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the father should have, or even in reality could have, simply let the server's question slide by unnoticed. I'm simply suggesting that the very act of protecting one's child against stigmatization can carry with it the unintended consequence of closing the door to positive experiences as well.

    FSM's story illustrates what a difficult balance a parent must strike in such situations. How does one balance the need to protect one's child against thoughtless and malicious comments by strangers in public places against the need to broaden the child's horizons by exposing him or her to new people and new experiences?

    I'm guessing that that dilemma presents itself constantly to the parent of any child who is perceived as "different."


  2. Dear Bill,
    Thank you for your very, very wise and encompassing comment!
    I agree with everything you said. After I published this , I thought, "Ugh, I am probably assuming too -- but from long experience."
    For ME, as a spectrum-y person with a child on the spectrum, part of the issue is not that I wouldn't - IN RETROSPECT - think I should absolutely have done better in #s 1 and 2; it's just that these situations come at you (new place, new people, much stimulation both internal and external) and you get utterly overwhelmed. What it feels like to me is a huge, inevitable wave of feeling taking over my entire being. And even that feeling at the time...what is it? It's not anger, really, or grief...It's painful, for sure, but it's more akin to - blah, even thinking about it hurts - shock. Which is dumb because it's not like it really, truly should be shocking. Again, I am speaking for myself.
    But the situation is one I am sure many parents of children with significant differences face every day. And I suspect that father went through all these feelings you and I have touched upon, and wishes it hadn't happened, and wishes it had gone differently, and wishes he could have acted differently, and wondered if his son would even have minded, and so on, all mixed up.
    Thanks again for your insights and your important question as well!!!!

  3. I think that is a definite example of a faux pas! The server inadvertently embarrassed the family or made them feel uncomfortable. A better response to someone who says they are in town looking for schools would probably be, "Oh really? What schools are you looking into?" Then the family could either mention the schools they are interested in (special schools or not) or give a more vague response to indicate that they don't want to talk about it. See? I do have some social skills after all! I'm practically Miss Manners!

  4. EGGZACTLY!!! Thank you, Angel The Alien/Miss Manners, for the Social Skills lesson!!!!!!!!! I just hope anyone reading this who is not actually IN a situation where they would know this without having to be told will think twice the next time they try to be "understanding" in this way...Love,

  5. As someone who both makes assumptions (usually, badly) in an effort to commune with "normal" human beings (who are very scary and mysterious, btw) and as one who also tolerates assumptions made by others (i.e., women in politics are subordinate; single women are threatening; women have husbands and children - why don't you?; etc.), I have empathy for all involved. A little self-censoring goes a long way...but only after painful learning of such skill. FSM, it was kind of you to recognize the server's good intent, despite the hurt feelings that ensued.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank you!!! I would put myself in the exact same "bag" as you; perhaps that's why I did feel empathy too for all concerned. Or, I should say, I definitely believe that the server (who was not in pain, I...assume) had good intentions, and I felt compassion (literally with-feeling) with the family...

  6. Hmmm. If it were obvious to the server that the child was probably going to go to the ___ School, it would have been best to just say, "Well, I hope you enjoy your time here in town!" instead of asking about the particular school. Why humiliate the family? Aren't things hard enough for us all? :/

    By the way, I'm so glad I clicked through to read a bit of your blog.

    1. Dear HEH,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly - and yet so many people, including the people involved (Pardner, server) don't quite see it that way/get it. So I guess one thing I was trying to do here was give a concrete and very real example of "just, please, don't do this!" As in, if you don't understand, please take my word for it. As in, yes, I know you meant well and wanted to convey compassion and understanding, but please do so in a different fashion (as you suggest). Also, we may or may not want your compassion and understanding, we may just want to eat some nice food as best we can.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!


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