I’ve been in diversity training this week, and these kinds of sessions are the kind where everyone is having to suffer through two long days of ‘training’ to teach you the things you should have already learned. As such, there’re plenty of people I don’t know in the room from different departments, minding their own business and just trying to survive to get out of the session without doing too much…
… and then across the room, I noticed that one of the others was wearing their ID badge on a puzzle-piece lanyard.
It happens all over, as we all know.
Going to the mall and seeing a child with their parents, wearing noise-dampening headphones.
Seeing the kid at the amusement park, head down, paying more attention to Sesame Street on their iPad instead of the costumed characters milling about.
The little boy or little girl who’s wearing a t-shirt with a pithy saying on it, but that features something about a puzzle-piece or Autism.
Or the coworker who has something puzzle-piece themed at their desk, be it a stress-ball or a magnet.
And… inevitably, there’s that knowing nod of I know what you’re going through, or, when I’m feeling bold, I try to say hey or something. (Actually, I don’t think it’s ever as suave or easy as we all think it is, since the more subtle ones are like the kinds of signals folks used to use in certain kinds of bars… in this case, I wandered over and asked quietly if the lanyard meant what I thought it meant, which it did.)
Part of our diversity training has been talking about “insider” and “outsider” groups. Being the parent of a special needs child is one of the more lonely “outsider” groups, by definition – we’re certainly a quickly growing demographic. Even with something that would seem to be worn to indicate interest or being affected by it, it’s hard to know when it’s safe to broach the subject, how to broach it, what to ask or how much to offer. Whether the person wearing such a puzzle-piece around the office is just a supporter, if they have family with Autism, if they have it themselves… or if they just saw it and liked the design. As an example – the other parent and I happened to be in the same workgroup during diversity training. Another group, working on a project, incorporated puzzle-pieces all over their design, without any connection to Autism. (I feel like we should have rumbled with them or something, maybe, and taught them a lesson. 😉 )
But that’s really part of the problem – when our kids aren’t with us, it’s hard to tell for sure if someone’s in the clique or out of it. And we can’t create awareness around us if people don’t know, and if we’re afraid to reach out to one another.
It makes me think that I’ll replace my plain black lanyard on Thursday with my own puzzle-piece one, and see if anyone says something, or asks…