We’ve had a lot of service technicians come through our house over the years – HVAC, electricians, handymen, carpenters, electronic installation people, dishwasher and washing machine repair people, movers, cable TV techs, carpet installation guys, pest control and so on. Some come during the day when the kids are in school, and others have come by when the kids are around and our home is in full chaotic mode.
I tend to forget how it must be to walk into our home as a stranger for the first time. We have the usual kid chaos, and something pungent and aromatic is often cooking on the stove, sending wafts of onion, ginger and garlic throughout the kitchen-area.
Often in the late afternoon Dadima (the kids’ paternal grandmother) sits on the sofa in the family room and reads the Quran with her dupatta wrapped around her head. I’m usually trying to wrap up work for the day on my computer, and Lil D is up to whatever Lil D is up to with his therapist(s), which includes his very loud noises, bead spinning, bounding throughout our rooms, flopping on the couch and putting his feet in our laps, head butting or getting physically close to anyone who’s in his vicinity if he is in a happy/goofy mood and engaging in meltdowns if he is reluctant to complete a task or for whatever reasons.
It can be overwhelming for me at times, so I can only imagine how service technicians must feel walking into this autism-y home of ours.
I usually do a quick autism spiel (making sure Lil D is not around when I do it, because I don’t like to be talking about him in front of him, like he can’t understand), so that whomever is over can be understanding of the gloriousness that is Lil D.
Though I also feel I don’t owe anyone who comes into my home an explanation, I know Lil D’s loud noises or his occasional tendency to get physically close can be off-putting to those not in the know.
And, in 13 years of motherhood and more than a decade of this autism life, I’ve never received an uncomfortable or weird vibe from any technician who’s entered my home. Either one of two things happen:
1) They hear my quick spiel, take it in stride, ask no questions and do the job they came to do.
2) They get very curious and ask questions, either for their own knowledge or because they know someone (or have a child themselves) on the autism spectrum.
But today, for the first time, I faced a third category:
3) They are visibly put-off by my son and make off-hand remarks about him. In my own home.
We had a TV repair person come by this evening, and I knew it would be a futile visit from the get-go because my husband, who was supposed to get our television off the wall as per the rules of the repair company, was late coming home from work. So when the technician arrived, the TV was still wall-mounted.
As he made calls to his boss to explain the situation, Lil D and his therapist came bounding into the family room. He gets to play with his beads on a break time, and anytime he has those beads, he gets very, very loud. He lay down on the sofa next to his therapist, and they engaged in tickles and silliness.
I saw the technician eye-balling Lil D, and so when Lil D and his therapist went upstairs to do some vacuuming, I quickly did my spiel, thinking that would be the end of it.
Yeah, he was being really loud, and I can’t hear on my phone if he’s that loud, the technician said. I told him that that often happens, and we tend to go into the other room to talk on the phone, and he can do so as well.
Ten minutes later Lil D came down again, exuberant and happy having completed the vacuuming, still as loud as ever. The technician, still on his phone, shot him some dirty looks.
Dude, I thought, go into the other room like I told you. This is Lil D’s house. He can do what he wants.
Regardless of whether or not Lil D understood the rudeness of the technician, I didn’t want him to be around the guy, so I gently led him into our basement, with his therapist following.
Fifteen minutes later, with the technician still hanging out in our kitchen waiting to hear back from his supervisor on what to do, Lil D came back upstairs. All happy and giggly, he bounced into the kitchen and chest-bumped the technician.
Whoa. WHOA, the technician called out, throwing his hands in the air and shooting more weirded-out looks at my son.
Yeah, Lil D shouldn’t have done that, but I had explained the situation earlier. Now I was really getting pissed off at this guy.
As we worked to wrap up the futile appointment, things started to get more strange: The technician, in making small-talk with me, started asking personal and odd questions, skipping from one topic to another (telling me what his salary was, about previous bad jobs he had had, asking me what kind of car I and my husband drove, telling me about his girlfriend and a bunch of other things).
And, as I waited to sign the service papers, he kept invading my personal space. Every time I took a step back, he stepped forward into my space. It was just strange and made me feel very uncomfortable.
Then it dawned on me. Something’s not right with this guy. He does not understand my social cues. He’s not getting what appropriate conversation or behavior is in this situation. So either he is rude, or he may have some sort of disability.
Finally, the technician left – and wouldn’t you know, my husband arrived home not two minutes later. I explained everything that happened and how my feelings had evolved from anger at his behavior towards Lil D to feeling uncomfortable at the odd conversation and intrusion into my personal space, to the realization that the guy may not be able to behave “neurotypically” in social situations.
My husband told me that when I rescheduled the appointment, to request for that technician not to come, given how the technician had behaved towards Lil D. But if this guy has a legitimate diagnosis or disability, like Asperger’s, then I should be the last person to be unwelcoming to him and his work in my home.
I’m thinking I go with my gut and let him come back and fix our TV. But make sure my husband is around.