Blaming Robert

I will never know exactly what was happening on Robert’s ways to school and back home.  Robert has never told me and, chances are, he never will.  I learned from irate driver that Robert was getting out of his car seat by  unlocking the seat belt. His behavior was  creating dangerous driving conditions.  So dangerous that the transportation company demanded that he wore a  special vest that would keep him seated while in the van. During the three weeks we waited for the vest to  be ordered, I drove Robert to and from the school.

Needless to say, Robert never tried to get out of his seat.

That didn’t surprise me, as it was consistent with Robert’s behavior during our trips to near and far away places.   Robert never unbuckled his seat belt when we were driving to Maine, New Hampshire, New York, or just to the grocery store.

However, when we changed the familiar trip pattern,  Robert became agitated.  For instance, if on a way home,  we had to make a detour,  Robert was energetically moving in his seat back and forth as if he wanted to get out.  Robert accepted any route to a new place, but the way home (and probably to school) was clearly displayed in his mind and any alteration had to be interpreted as  a sign of being lost in space.

Was that the problem with school transportation?

As I was picking Robert from his school van, not once I smelled  freshly made  fries from McDonald or steaming coffee from Dunkin Donuts.  When the driver told me that she shared fries or munchkins with Robert,  I asked her not to do that.  I knew that this might cause problems later as Robert would expect her to continue do the same.

But I didn’t say that she shouldn’t alter Robert’s school route by stopping at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts.

I am not sure why I didn’t say anything.  Maybe because  I wasn’t really sure what had happened.  Maybe because I didn’t want to impose any additional requirements on the driver and antagonize her.

That was not the first time when I silently accepted the fact that the people around Robert refused to assign any rational explanation to Robert’s behaviors.  I accepted the  fact that nobody analyzed his/her own actions as a factor contributing to the problems Robert had.

It was easy to blame Robert not only because he couldn’t defend himself and explain anything.  It was easy because blaming Robert was really blaming  his autism, and not exactly the person Robert was.  Whatever Robert did in the van, it was because he had autism.  Autism was to blame.  So it was like faulting a person who couldn’t really be blamed because she/he had a good excuse.

Or it seemed so.

I allowed that then and I allowed that during other situations.  For me too,  it was easier to blame autism than to understand the mechanics behind the problems encountered by Robert and people around him.

I have to add, that during one detour on a way from Children’s Hospital, just by constant repeating, “It is a road construction.  We’re taking detour. We are  going home.  It is a detour.  Detour. Road Construction”,  my daughter and I solved the problem for our future trips.  Although, during that ride, Robert’s anxiety didn’t subside as long as we were in unfamiliar territories,  but from that time on, all unexpected turns were tolerated when the magic word “detour” was used.  I could count on this word even when there was no road construction obstructing the street but I wanted to stop somewhere on the way. 

What surprised me then was  the fact that we didn’t go to the Children’s Hospital too often.  Moreover, I didn’t always take the same route home but alternated between two of them, and Robert was fine with whatever choice I made. So I didn’t expect Robert to remember those paths home and yet he did.

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1 Comment

  1. Jean

     /  October 12, 2012

    My son, Nolan, gets agitated when familiar travel patterns are changed. He responds positively to verbal rehersal regarding the “changed route” and is always OK with “we are on Vacation, and this is our road today (he loves going to hotels, swimming, and visiting family).


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