I’ll never forget the first time I gave someone the finger.
Growing up, I strove to be a good girl. I did this by going to church, following the rules, listening to my parents, and, to a lesser extent, not swearing.
I was a senior in high school when I first decided to take a walk on the wild side. I chose my initial target well. Or at least as well as one can as a teenager whose sole purpose is to rebel. He was a cherub-faced underclassman. His only transgression against me was to exceed me in goody-two-shoedness. After I flipped him the bird, he was gobsmacked. He gasped saying, “And you’re president of the National Honor Society!”
Properly chastised and fearing repercussions, I went back to my good girl routine. Once I hit college, though, I started adding more profanity to my vocabulary. Just as I did with that gesture in high school, I used bad words to shock.
I didn’t really appreciate the value of profanity to express the inexpressible until I got my first full-time job as a teacher. Suddenly, those words seemed useful. Of course, no matter how frustrated you get, you can’t yell, “For f***’s sake!” in front of a class of kindergarteners and expect to keep your job. So, I learned to rein in those words, saving their use for after work and among adults.
Now that I’m not a teacher, I don’t worry about my language at work as much as I once did. Of course, that bit of good girl still lingers in me. I try to ration my profanity at work.
But at home?
Despite having practiced self-control while teaching, knowing that it isn’t wise to cuss in front of children, I am guilty of swearing at home.
Last week on her blog, Emma’s Hope Book, Ariane Zurcher included the following in her list of things she wished she had been made aware of about autism:
Do not speak of or about your child as though they cannot and do not understand or hear you . . . Chances are your child can and does understand what you’re saying even if they do not show any signs that you recognize.
Her words really struck me. Even though I am not swearing at my son, the fact that I feel free to let fly in front of him reveals something about my attitudes. By using profanity in front of him, I am implying, “I don’t believe you are listening. I don’t believe you understand. I don’t believe I am harming you.”
Even though Philip may not be parroting my potty mouth, I need to watch my language in front of him. I have the proof that he understands. A few months ago, Peter was at his computer, and he loudly said, “F***!” I was sitting with Philip at the dining room table as he drew with his markers. Right after Peter’s outburst, Philip took the marker and threw it. A few minutes later, Peter let loose with another expletive. Again, Philip stopped coloring and threw his marker, this time adding his own sound of frustration.
Over the previous months, I knew that Philip’s receptive language was developing based on his responses (e.g. crying when we said milk, throwing objects when we tell him “no” or “stop”). But watching Philip throw the marker in response to yelling made me realize that Philip could recognize anger and frustration. Not having his own vocabulary to match, he communicated in his own non-verbal way.
I’ve read many stories by parents recounting embarrassing moments of carelessly saying something foul-mouthed, risqué or indiscreet only to later have those same words repeated in public by their children. When I think about those anecdotes, I don’t feel quite as bad. Yet, the good girl in me knows I’ve been making assumptions about my autistic son’s abilities.
Gosh darn it, that needs to stop.
G is for guilt. And goody-two-shoedness. I made that one up.
I’m blogging on the theme of autism acceptance as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.