Grace and Disgrace on the Subway

Filed Under (Activism) by Estee on 07-11-2014

I’ve been thinking of writing about the faith I often have in daily encounters with people on our subway also known as the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). In addition to the autism label, Adam also has tics known as Tourettes Syndrome. His manifest in a loud “ow.” This will turn many heads, mostly to see if everything is okay. Sometimes Adam can get stuck in his ow. It will attract attention and I have tried to help him cultivate a tool box of things where he can help himself get unstuck, but he still requires support in this.

I know so well about the feeling of being stared at, and I know that Adam feels it more. The more people raise the tension in the room, the more Adam will tic. It is stress-based or triggered by various thoughts and emotions, largely negative ones. I think that most people are very forgiving which makes me (mostly) proud to live here in Toronto. Sometimes people will give us more room and smile at us. I like to believe that others see how I positively interact with Adam and witness our loving relationship, and this also eases the situation.

Rarely do we get an irritated stare, but it does happen once in a while. Sometimes I will find myself just wrapping my arm around Adam, or just going on with our activity and ignoring it. I like to lead by example, and I do think this is what we parents have to do in these situations. As my father continues to tell me, don’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks. Yes, sometimes easier said than done, but considering the circumstances, it really helps.

Although a lot of my writing is fed up with disgraceful behaviour and assumptions from a society that seems so restrictive in terms of where Adam can be and how he is allowed to participate in his community, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find the good in everyone. I suppose it’s the counterbalance to an often tough situation.

I’m doing it now. I want to thank all those people (who will never read this) for their acceptance on the subway – or maybe it’s just not wanting to bother. At any rate, non-interference really helps.

At the same time, I want to also mention the two young men who walked in front of me the other day talking “about this guy with Tourettes who dropped a tray and said fuck fuck fuck fuck…” Of course the guys were laughing out loud and I so wanted to say “Excuse me guys, but my son has Tourettes and he can’t help it. It would be great if you could be more gracious about it – yada yada.” The same thing happened today when an autistic man was on the subway and wanted to talk to people. He approached two young black men – and I will describe them because it is an example of how an acceptance of racial diversity doesn’t automatically relate to an acceptance of ability diversity (or disability). The autistic man approached them and was talking to them – it surprised the two young men. They looked at the autistic man oddly and began to laugh at him. I realize that they were surprised and didn’t know what to do, and oftentimes nervousness manifests in a cruel laughter. Then, I thought that the right thing to do would have been just to say hello to him – that he was just trying to be friendly even if his way wasn’t typical. This too caught me by surprise today – I was reading a book and thought, if my timing was right, I would have walked down and just said, “hey guys, maybe you could have just said hello. He looked like he was trying to be friendly. There are a lot of autistic people…yada yada.”

If we could stand up for others in history, isn’t it also time we stand up for disabled people when the situation warrants? I admit I was too late and I’m kicking myself for it – am I too a product of our modern malaise and social detatchment? I like to think we can nurture grace by being gracefully forthright.

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.