Yesterday driving was driving me nuts! It started when I took Chase to school hands gripped to the wheel while oil field workers barreled down the highway to their jobs. Mornings on I-70 in Western Colorado are like a NASCAR race with trucks. Roughnecks weave in and out of traffic in a desperate attempt to punch the clock on time.
A few hours later coming home from the doctor I must have been going too slowly in my neighborhood because a lady pulled right up on my bumper and honked at me. Excuse me, I thought. Last time I checked 20 was the posted MPH in our subdivision. I’m sorry I’m going 19!
Looking for a little distraction I logged onto Facebook and discovered my friend Ellie had gone to her restitution hearing. On her way to the gym last spring she was hit by a drunk driver high on meth. Her injuries are so significant this month she has to have a rib removed in order for her spine to be repaired. The restitution was as much of a joke as the guilty driver’s sentence. It made me sick to my stomach.
Then my phone rang. The call I’d made to the local driving school was finally being returned. Chase wants to learn to drive so I’d made some calls to investigate. Unfortunately, the school his brother went is no longer in business. This was disappointing. They’d worked well with Luke.
After exchanging pleasantries the driving school owner told me she hadn’t called me back earlier because they’d decided they couldn’t work with autistic kids.
“We’re not sure they can drive safely,” she said.
“Really?” I asked. “My older son is autistic and has a great driving record.”
“That’s not our experience. We had an autistic girl that crashed one of our cars. It was a nightmare.”
“I guess I need to call someone else,” I said.
“Nobody is going to work with him if he takes medication.”
“Lots of people take medication and drive so we’ll see about that,” I said indignantly. “He’s not taking any narcotics.”
“Oh, maybe we can work with him then. The girl I mentioned was taking narcotics and her parents didn’t tell us.”
“I can see why that would be a problem.”
Before the conversation could go any further the driving school owner was interrupted. She asked if she could call me back. “Of course,” I said but I wasn’t sure I wanted her to. I’d call other places and talk to some folks that might know about options for Chase.
I was angry. I spend a lot of time in my car and I see folks driving that are far more “disabled” than Chase. They might not be legally disabled but they are not as alert or conscientious as him. Their lack of regard for basic driving rules makes you wonder how they have a valid license. Ellie’s experience tells you many drivers have no conscience. The courts can’t protect us from the grossly negligent but a driving school is going to turn away Chase. That’s not right.
I stormed around my office before my phone rang again. I’m not sure how I heard the Holy Spirit while the ringer was going. Before I could answer He said, “Breathe and be diplomatic.” I hate it when that happens.
Before I could say anything the school owner apologized.
“I’m sorry. I hope we didn’t get off on the wrong foot. I shouldn’t have made any assumptions about your son. We had a bad experience that made me nervous.”
“I understand,” I said. “It’s scary for me too. I don’t know your instructors. I want to make sure my son has a good experience. He’s a great kid. I think you might enjoy working with him.”
We were on better footing now. We talked about what the strengths of her school were and how that could work with Chase. She asked her questions, I asked mine, and we both agreed things looked promising. When we were ready to hang-up she said,
“I’m sorry I stereotyped your son. That wasn’t fair. As a Christian woman I should know better.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m guilty of stereotyping myself.”
I felt convicted. I’m quick to remember things about people that confirm my stereotype rather than look for examples that disprove my assumptions. It’s the American way. We categorize people and exaggerate everything. When it comes to driving women, elderly, teens, and Asians get a bad rap. Sadly, in every area of life you could make a list of stereotypes a mile long. I’m a blonde from Southern California—I know of what I speak.
In life these prejudices cloud our thinking and distract us from more important issues. With Chase the big picture is about independence. Driving can open up a whole new world to him. He could get a job, go to the library, or visit a friend without needing to find a ride.
Limiting special needs kids with stereotypes keeps them needy. To pigeonhole anyone makes them needy. To overcome our prejudices they have to win our approval when demonstrating their competency should be sufficient. In some cases that mountain is high enough. It’s wrong to make it steeper with prejudice. This perpetuates stereotypical behavior. If you don’t think you can ever break out of the world’s mindset about you, will you even try?
Driving is going to be a stretch for Chase but that’s what makes it exciting. With God all things are possible—even overcoming the world’s ideas about your abilities. One day I believe he’ll be able to say with confidence, “I’m a very good driver.” I also think he’s going to teach his instructors a thing or two. That will be priceless just like the penny he handed me when I hung up the phone.
“Mom, I found this in the parking lot when Luke picked me up at school.”