‘I have autism. What’s your excuse?’
T-shirts poke fun at disability, help educate others, mother says

My son Brandon looks like a typical teenager – until he squeals with excitement, flaps his arms, yells or grunts.

Then people get a look of terror on their faces, grab their children and back away. Or they make faces or comments, like “control your kid” – as if it’s my fault and I don’t know what I’m doing, and if only I did “x, y and z” it would be fixed.

Everywhere I go I have to explain: “My son has autism. Loud noises bother him.” Or “he’s just excited, don’t worry, everything’s okay.”

Earlier this year we were going to Disney World, and I knew what to expect: people would over-react to Brandon’s behaviour, pull their kids away or make faces at us.

Then I read about some t-shirts with funny sayings about autism on them.

They’re shirts you’d expect a teenager to wear. One has a grumbly face on it and says “I have autism. What’s your excuse?” Another has a funny-looking character on it and says: “You think you’re stressed. Try having autism.” And the third is a picture of a little prickly cactus guy. It says “What? Is my autism showing?”

I ordered them, thinking that instead of trying to ‘hide’ Brandon on our trip, the t-shirts would educate people and calm their fears. The change was immediate and beyond anything I could have ever imagined! It was like I found a magic key that opened the door to everyone’s kindness, understanding and compassion.

People would read the shirt, their body language would change and they’d smile and go out of their way to be helpful.

It started at the airport, where a burly security guard who was brusque with everyone else read Brandon’s shirt, leaned forward as he was about to go through the metal detector, and said: “It’s okay sweetheart. It’s not going to do anything. Just step through the machine.” Then she went and rubbed his arm and said: “You did a wonderful job. Thank you young man.” And she looked me right in the eye and smiled.

In Florida, the same thing happened. I didn’t have to explain Brandon’s behaviour and people came to us, instead of trying to run away from us.

People would ask questions about Brandon, or tell us about someone they knew who had autism.

Our best experience happened when we took Brandon – who’s six feet tall – to Mickey’s Tune Town Fair, which is for young children. Brandon wanted his picture taken with Minnie. After waiting for 20 minutes, Minnie’s helper said Minnie was going to take a break. I knew Brandon would flip out and was about to plead with the person. Then he saw Brandon, read his shirt, and said “Minnie my friend, I know it’s time for your break, but I have a very special young man that wants to meet you.” And they brought Brandon in while I cried because I was so touched and so surprised.

Many people have asked us about the shirts. I recommend them highly. They break the ice in a funny way, explain Brandon’s behaviour, and put people at ease.

You can order the shirts by visiting Ali's Alley at cafepress.com.

 

By DEBBIE LUBIANA

‘I found a magic key that opened the door to everyone’s kindness.’

Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre