Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Greeting Strangers In Public

My daughter with an autism spectrum disorder notices people. Sometimes, when she recognizes an individual from another ethnicity, she speaks to them in what she thinks is their native language.

The first time I saw her do this was outside a grocery store in Florence, Kentucky, Y'all where we were meeting family at a hotel for a couple of days.My daughter and I were exiting a grocery store, and an African American couple were entering. The man was dressed in what, apparently, looked like hip hop attire to my daughter, and suddenly, she faced him in a way that let him know she was addressing him (her non-verbal communication was beautiful, here) jumped into a hip hop position, crossed her arms, flattened out her palms, fingers spread wide, and said, "YO!" rather loudly to this man. I was mortified (and rather frozen at the time). He didn't miss a beat. He jumped into exactly the same position, mirroring hers, and greeted her back with a "YO!" and a huge grin. His generosity put me at ease.

Before I can even see what is happening, she's in the middle of a group of people in saris, greeting them with "Namaste!" Or she's greeted a Hispanic family with, "Hola!" The Chinese family in the warehouse club laughed when she told them, "Ni hao". I was so embarrassed. I'm trying to explain to her the fact that we just don't do that. She doesn't get the idea that it might offend someone.

She learned those greetings from televison for children. She learned another phrase from television for teens.

As I try not to replay the incident from the ballpark Monday night in my mind, (I can't help myself - I need to understand the "why" so I can help her learn something different) I have to wonder if my daughter thinks that "Your outfit is so last year," is an appropriate greeting for a person whose culture or ethnicity is teenager? My daughter clearly doesn't see the phrase as a cut-down or offensive, any more than she can understand that a Japanese American family might be offended that she'd assume they speak Japanese by greeting them with "Konichiwa!".

1 comment:

Marie said...

EXACTLY! Like Jack doesn't get why other kids don't understand when he says, "Hi Dorothy!" from Elmo's World.

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