NICHOLAS is 19 going 20. He is tall, almost a six-footer, tanned and quiet, that is, until he sees cars, lorries and buses. Diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) at 2, he has led a rather supervised life. In particular, outside of the home, he is always with someone who understands him because life can be very dangerous for him.
One beautiful sunny day, he collected the towels and walked out towards the swimming pool on his own. I chatted with the towel man. It was a weekday and the pool was usually empty except for one or two regulars. However, when I heard shouts coming from the pool area, my heart sank. In less than a minute I was at the pool entrance and saw Nicholas, nonchalantly walking along the side of the pool while a man was shouting and pointing at him. I asked the man what had happened. He said that Nicholas was a pervert and gestured at his private parts. I walked over to the table and tried to explain that Nicholas is a person with disabilities. The man became aggressive and shouted at me, saying he did not want to know nor care, and that my son has no right to be there. When I persisted in explaining, he charged towards me and shouted in my face, telling me to FO over and over, perhaps hoping to shout me into oblivion.
I got my son (who had no idea what had happened) to apologise to all present. . As I explained to him about not approaching people he does not know, the man shouted at me to get out or talk elsewhere. It was surreal because I was very calm and told him that I have every right to be there as the pool area is a public place.
There was a daughter, perhaps late teen and a mother too. I asked the daughter what had happened but she mumbled something and walked away. I apologised to the mother and asked her what happened. She said that Nicholas touched the swimsuit on the chair and then said it was a misunderstanding because he looked normal. I asked if he had touched the daughter or anyone else and she said, “No” and repeated that, “It was a misunderstanding”.
The story ended with nobody willing or able to tell me what really happened. So I formed my own story. Nicholas had walked out to the pool and to our regular table which unfortunately was occupied by the family. He must have stopped at the table and wondered what to do. Making a
decision was a big thing and stressful so when he saw a swimsuit draped over a chair, he touched it because he likes the material and doing so calmed him a little.
Although mum was nowhere in sight to tell him what to do next, he took it upon himself to walk to another unoccupied table about 10 feet away, put the towels and bags on the chairs and went for his warm-up walk around the pool.
In any other circumstance, I would have applauded his decision-making and initiative to walk to another table, unprompted.
Unfortunately, in his first-time experience of having to decide what to do in an unscripted set-up, Nicholas must have touched or held his crotch and that was the point when he was labelled a pervert.
My only guess was that the mother and daughter had complained to the father about Nicholas’s actions and that was why he was ranting. I was upset.
With myself because, I let my guard down. Nicholas could have been
whopped by the man.
With the man, for being loud, threatening and really rude. With the woman and the girl, for being self-centred and not pausing to really look and think.
At how quickly people jumped to conclusions and the ignorance about people with learning difficulties.
There have been countless news coverage and stories on people with disabilities but the usual stories are about their unique gifts (the savants) and achievements. But seldom does the media talk about what it is like to be someone with disabilities and no gifts. At the onlookers and commentators, who stood by at a safe distance while an angry man berated a woman.
The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu rang loud and clear that day,
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.
We should all be better people.