Adrian’s two sisters, each a mother herself, don’t know about Martin’s autism, because Adrian refuses to tell them. Adrian’s official position is that, given the discrimination that still exists against disabilities and difference in his country of origin (where my in-laws reside), he would rather not see Martin “branded.” (Adrian’s parents and brother, Pancho, know the diagnosis. Adrian is closer to them.) I don’t begrudge Adrian’s choice. Even here in the States, we haven’t been public about Martin’s autism, or former autism.
On the other hand, the ignorance of my sisters-in-law leaves me in an awkward spot when Martin and I visit South America. For years I’ve avoided spending too much time for them, or covered when it came to Martin’s behavior, like I covered on our first day this visit. How many times can I say Martin is tired, jet-lagged, on a different schedule, shy, not feeling his best? Try me.
I decided this year I might be able to do something different. I approached Adrian with the idea of telling one sister—Claudia, who lives in the capital city we were visiting, and whom Adrian likes better—about Martin’s new diagnosis, ADHD. “Autism” strikes fear. “ADHD,” on the other hand, makes people wonder if your kid is taking the same drugs as their kids. Adrian agreed. ADHD doesn’t sound scary like autism sounds scary. We decided that I would share with Claudia “our challenges with ADHD.”
I didn’t really find a good opportunity to talk until our last evening in town, when Martin stayed with my mother-in-law while I went out to dinner with Pancho and Claudia. Then I fumbled, trying to come up with a way to initiate the conversation. An hour into dinner, Claudia said we should come down in July to go skiing during her children’s winter break.
“I wish we could! But Martin goes to school during the summer. Next year maybe we could come—he might change to a new school and have summers off.”
Awkward. Still, my comment moved the conversation in the desired direction. Claudia asked, “Martin is changing to a new school?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Right now he goes to a special school for kids with ADHD. But his attention has been getting better. We are thinking he can go to a regular school, with some extra help.”
If this fazed Claudia, she gave no hint. She said, “And then he would have the summer off? Do you think you could come here for the whole summer? We could do so much skiing!”
“I don’t know about the whole summer. We could probably come for a while,” I said. “It all depends on whether he gets to switch schools. We still have work to do on the attention span and all the issues that have to do with ADHD. We’re not sure he’s totally ready to leave his special school.”
Across from me, Pancho was nodding. He has known about Martin’s issues for years and could see what I was trying to do.
Claudia said, “This will be great. I’ll send you the schedule for my kids’ school vacation, so you’ll know when to come.”
Last try. I said, “I will have to let you know what happens. ADHD is very hard to accommodate properly in school. You can see Martin’s poor attention span.”
Claudia said, “I’ve heard it’s very common in America to change schools. Not here. My children will go to the same school until university, just like we did.”
There went my big talk with Claudia. At least, somewhere in her head is the notion that Martin has special challenges. I suppose that’s enough for now.
Final note: In the first paragraph of this post, I mentioned “the discrimination that still exists against disabilities and difference in [Adrian’s] county of origin.” I don’t know whether the culture of Adrian’s country of origin engenders unusual bias against disability. On my visits there, some 10 times and counting, I haven’t witnessed autism discrimination. But when it comes to Adrian’s own country of origin, I will let his opinion carry the day.