September 16, 2009

What's in a name?

There's a girl I've known since I was about 11 or so. When I moved in with my dad and started middle school, she and I clicked right away. We had the same last name, but with a different spelling. (Come to find out, we were distantly related, too!) She was my best friend. We did everything together and I missed her very much when I moved back to my mother's.

I met up with her again when my grandfather died and I made the trek, alone, to face my father and his family and attend the funeral. It was a disaster to the nth degree, but I stood my ground. I could have handled things better but, in my 17 yr old mind, I had just lost the greatest man I'd ever known. (Unbeknownst to me, I had some awful horrormones going on, too. But that's a story for another time.) She stood by me. She offered to let me stay at her apartment, even though she was in an awful relationship. She and I were as different as oil and water at that point, but she took my hand and helped me through that night and none of it mattered. And still, we drifted apart again. Through the joys of the internet (and my father, who still lives in the same small town as when I lived with him, sees her family almost daily) we are MySpace buddies.

Now, this friend has a daughter named Autumn. Pretty name for a pretty girl. But, and this is a big but, she uses the nickname Auttie. I'm not sure if she realizes the present and future implications of that. Or of how many other parents with a daughter named Autumn use that unfortunate nickname for their child.

Why is it so bad, you ask? Well, my faithful readers, some of you may already know but I'll elaborate for those that don't. "Auttie" is a not-so-nice nickname given to autistic people. A-HA! Now it dawns on you. Mother myself to an autistic child, I despise the carefree way that people throw this word around (or nickname, as the case may be) . It's like calling a retarded person a "tard", or a person with Down Syndrome a "mong". It cheapens the disorder and creates a stigma that the person will have to fight against for the rest of their life. With so many people on either side of the fence - there are those of us with children on the Autism Spectrum who fight daily to help our children master even the simplest of tasks while shaking our heads in disbelief at the people who insist that the disorder isn't real and is just another name for lazy parenting - you can see why this puts me on edge.

So, when I hear someone yell "auttie!" across a crowded room, my heart breaks and my fist clenches because I am preparing to confront one of them; those ignorant people who feel that there is nothing wrong with my child that a spanking won't fix. I'm not relieved at all when I see, instead, a small girl with brown hair flying behind her as she careens through the crowd. Whether or not this parent realizes it, they have just made their child's life harder. I'm saddened, because I know that I will have to continue to fight against prejudice for my child and that this parent has just condemned their child to my fight.

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