#nofilter: What my Child with Autism says to Strangers
There are a lot of beautiful pictures on Instagram with #nofilter – meaning the “photographer” did not alter the picture before posting it. But every time I see #nofilter, I think of my son Evan because as a 10-year-old with autism he has no filter.
Every time he opens his mouth, I wonder what he will say because if he thinks something, he says it. If it’s on his mind, it’s out of his mouth. Sometimes what he says is totally inappropriate or offensive. But there are many more times when he says the sweetest or funniest things, too.
You Are Beautiful
The other day he told a lady at the grocery store that she was beautiful. His tone was sweet and sincere and he absolutely made her day. With a big smile plastered on her face, she called Evan one of the kindest kids she’d ever met. Encouraged by his successful interaction, Evan proceeded to tell another shopper that he was nice and that he loved him. As expected, the warm reception wasn’t there this time around and Evan had to be reminded (again) why it’s not appropriate to tell strangers he loves them.
The social norms of society are confusing to Evan. He doesn’t always understand what should or shouldn’t be said and he craves positive attention and desperately wants to interact with others.
Two Samuel Jacksons
Recently we traveled to Canada to celebrate my Aunt Sayde’s 100th birthday. There we were treated to a healthy combination of comments from seemingly – but not intentionally – offensive to sweet and hilarious. This kid had multiple #nofilter moments.
The first #nofilter moment of the weekend came as we checked into our hotel and were waiting to get on the elevator.
Evan pointed directly at two black men and said, “Look, there’s two Samuel Jacksons.” They weren’t amused. The last time he called an African American Samuel Jackson, the guy was beyond flattered and we all laughed at Evan’s favorable comparison. I’ve since learned that almost any bald man, regardless of skin color, is a Samuel Jackson lookalike in the eyes of Evan.
Later that night, someone from housekeeping came to deliver a set of “cheats” (sheets). Evan innocently asked, “What are cheats?” His brother and sister, Noah and Jessica, either knew what he meant despite the accent or they at least knew better than to ask.
Driving home from Canada, we stopped a highway rest stop. Evan casually approached a Hispanic man – at a urinal – and asked if he wanted any “cheeeps” (chips). Was Evan repeating something he saw on TV? Did the man remind him of someone with an accent he once heard asking for chips? I have no idea. I do know he wasn’t trying to be offensive. He was just trying to start a conversation – at the urinal.
Please Don’t Die
Evan last saw Aunt Sayde more than two years ago. She has three daughters, nine grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren. Evan met most of them for the first time last weekend and was so excited to have a new audience.
Evan greeted his great, great aunt with the biggest, one of the most loving hugs. After wishing her a happy birthday, Evan looked sadly at the centenarian and very sincerely said, “Aunt Sayde, I don’t want you to die.”
I think it’s sweet that Evan told Aunt Sayde exactly how he felt (even though she didn’t hear him). I’m sure my aunt thinks about her mortality, too, and would not have been the least offended about his unique expression of love. Evan said what each one of us was thinking as we contemplated the milestone birthday being celebrated.
Happy Birthday Aunt Sayde
After lunch, Aunt Sayde’s immediate family members delivered wonderful speeches and shared touching memories. Shortly after the podium was empty and we were socializing with cousins we hadn’t seen in years, Evan’s voice unexpectedly filled the banquet room. Like the great and powerful Oz, he could be heard clearly but not seen. The large podium was a perfect hiding place behind which Evan could address a captive audience.
I thought for sure he was going to tell everyone not to clap or cheer after singing “Happy Birthday,” and that he would insist that the lights stay on while the candles were lit. He’s always had issues with birthday parties and isn’t shy about making his demands known.
Instead, he politely said: “Happy birthday, Aunt Sayde. I love you very much, and I hope you have the happiest birthday.”
Why does Evan lack the ability to filter his thoughts? I don’t completely know. Obviously, it’s part of his autism. But should he have to filter his thoughts? As long as it’s not offensive, I believe it’s okay for him to say what’s on his mind. I think he’s expressing himself in the only way he knows how. Plus, he likes making people laugh, and he’s experimenting with ways to do it.
We know that Evan doesn’t have a mean cell – let alone bone – in his body. He just sees the world and interacts with it differently than we do. He says what he thinks.
For those of us who know and love Evan, we get it. But it’s the guys in the elevator, the guy delivering the sheets and the man at the urinal who don’t understand.
What are you or your loved ones’ #nofilter moments?