Hecklers and Teenagers, Oh My

One long tall drink of water on his bike  
There's just been a bit of an extra edge hanging about Charlie this past week. He's been doing his usual activities, walks and bike rides (two of those yesterday—as well, the weather has been in the high 70s and not humid, but it's going to be back into the 90s by the weekend), computer time for videos and music, quiet time in his room with no one bugging him (he tells us to go 'stairs' as in 'downstairs'), checking out the refrigerator for his favored foods. There's just an extra air of tenseness in the way he's holding his shoulders, in some of the looks he fixes me with when he's requesting something but the word doesn't come to him. 

Jim and I have been, as usual, tallying up possible reasons:

The start of school, the departure of my parents.

Charlie feeling the lag from all of that. 

A slight change in his medication (a decrease in Zoloft) following last week's neurologist visit; he's now taking the same dose he was taking previously.

Those are the 'more obvious-ses.' 

My mind's been tarrying over a few other unpleasantnesses which are beyond Charlie's, and our, control:


On walks and bike rides, people—a very few people, but it only takes one—have been shouting choice words out of open windows, at Charlie and also at Jim and me. On their bike rides, Jim and Charlie are regularly honked at (just what a boy with sound sensitivity needs). It's very often teenagers doing this. Now that school's out and it's summer, these sorts of incidents have been happening more often. 

On Wednesday, Charlie was distraught after a car of teenage cars yelled at him from their car. Jim noted that Charlie may be getting mad at us afterwards not only because he can't snap back at the heckler types, but also because Charlie just feels bad afterwards and we're not able to stop it. 

Sure, we could not go for walks and rides, but teenagers in cars—hecklers in cars—are pretty impossible to avoid around here, or, really, anywhere. And it's not just the louder, sometimes profane jeers of said hecklers. Lately during bike rides, Charlie has been wanting to stop at a local playground and swing; Jim's noted proudly that he's now able to swing himself, pumping his legs to gain momentum and go back and forth. With Charlie around, more than one mother has indicated in various non-verbal ways that (okay, I'm speculating, but parents of kids with disabilities know what I'm talking about) she's afraid 'it might be contagious' and best get hers out of the way.

We admit, Charlie does stand out. As frequently noted, and as you can see from the photos, he is tall. He's also athletic and muscular and, while he's pretty good about letting Jim use the electric shaver, Charlie tends to have at least the shadow of a moustache. His speech comes out in a few words that, to a casual listener, seem completely out of context and not what most people expect to hear from someone who is 5' 8".

Yes, I do suspect the r-word, and worse, gets thrown around about Charlie. And parents of young children see a tall, strong kid with little language on the swings and they think, what can I say, Lennie in Of Mice and Men

Being parents of an autistic teenager, we can't help but say, so much for all that awareness stuff. One thing when your child is a 5, even 9 and 11 and cute and pick-up-able; another when he is older, taller, a teenager. An adult. 

We go out of our way to assure Charlie that he's loved, that we love him. When we were his age, Jim and I were both different, awkward, ourselves. We don't yell back at the hecklers—believe me, we'd like to—because our yelling would just upset Charlie more. (Though I am going to start noting license plate numbers.) Frankly, I think the best thing to do is to keep going out, and to keep on walking (and riding) with peaceful-easy serenity. And, too, to keep talking, writing, advocating about autism, that it's a lifelong disability; that Charlie acts 'differently' not because he's 'crazy' or whatever but because that's how his neurology works (a bit of a mouthful to say, this last point, I admit!). To keep being aut and not heckling the hecklers back.

But explaining all this to Charlie–that's a far harder task. We're quite sure he knows he's different, that there are things we and others can do that he can't and that he struggles mightily in trying to do. Now after he has a neurological storm, he sits and weeps and wails and I think it's because he feels so very bad about what just happened—Charlie knows he's not supposed to hit his head. But what to do when other people, who he doesn't know and who startle him out of the blue, yell and say things that are clearly not nice?

Ayou can see from this post, it bothers me and I'm working out my feelings writing. Charlie's not able to do such.

Yesterday it was mostly from the time he set foot in our house after school to evening that Charlie seemed 'on edge.' Rides to and from school (with me, with Jim) were uneventful and school was good. Afterwards, Charlie had only been in the house for a few minutes when he called for his bike helmet and off he and Jim rode. Charlie asked for a car ride (no problem) but then insisted that I place the driver's seat a certain way that I couldn't figure out. Jim ended up joining us and drove us around some local streets, with Charlie pointing and ardently calling out 'this way, this way!'. 

He called for the computer soon as he came back home—another request, very insistently delivered. Such requesting–demanding, some might say—has been a precursor before to Charlie getting really upset; the tough thing is to know how to respond. And I just felt that turning on the computer so Charlie could watch the same videos he always requests wasn't the ideal thing to do at the moment. I saw the bass guitar in the corner; it's been a while since we picked it up. I started strumming it (Jim kindly told me I looked like a natural; ha ha) and brought the bass over to Charlie.

Charlie ran his fingers over the strings a few times then sat down. I brought the bass over to him and he strummed the strings more, pushing hard, and seemed to settle a little, as if the feel of his fingers on the metal strings satisfied something of his need for deep pressure.

There would be another bike ride, again very fast; bedtime at 9pm followed by tossing and turning and Charlie coming downstairs at 10pm in search of a snack. He called for the white car and I set the timer to go off at 5am. I got out the guitar again, Charlie listened to some music (Amazon appears to have restored the samples on the albums he likes—phrew) and went up to bed, eventually. And cheerily.

Afternoon to almost bedtime: Occurs to me that those are the hours when ye typical teenager is out with friends, or hanging with friends in some capacity, or doing 'stuff' that parents aren't deemed in need of knowing. Things being as they are, Charlie of course spends a disproportionate amount of time with Jim and me. Perhaps his being 'on edge' around us is just a bit of typical teenage behavior.

As, I regret to say, are (alas) those shouts from the hecklers.

But we all know there are appropriate and inappropriate behaviors—and it's quite clear what to classify heckling as.

17 Responses to “Hecklers and Teenagers, Oh My”
  1. feebee says:

    You have such grace.

  2. erika says:

    Oh Kristina, this post just broke my heart. It pains me to think about Charlie being mocked and you guys being yelled at.
    I often wonder how people will react to Izzy once she stops being small and cuddly and adorable. I dread the rejection and those looks and slurs that you described.
    Ignoring the hecklers and rising above the situation as you do is the wisest way to handle it, but it must be so darn hard. Wishing you lots of strength and grace.

  3. Skye I says:

    Kristina . . please take a very obvious camera with you when you go out, and take pictures of the hecklers and/or their license plates. You don’t have to do anything with the pictures, but it will certainly give the verbal assailants some pause if they see you do it. It might even be better to use a cell phone camera, as you’ll be able to immediately dial 911 if they decide to get out of the car. I know you don’t want to make things worse for Charlie, but so often bullies are only empowered by being ignored. I would hate to see this escalate.

  4. As ever I am moved, and struggle to find words of comfort.

  5. autismvox says:

    I always have my phone with me and was thinking of doing that, thank you—have been wanting to yell back but know all that will do is make me feel very briefly better.
    Thanks everyone—
    I think the heckling happens more now because Charlie is older, appears even older than he is. Like (to some) kindness only extends to little kids….. so much for character education in my school district.

  6. A sad welcome to Charlie to the world of my past, what I (and my brother) had to endure day in, day out at school.

  7. Club 166 says:

    I’m with Skye, though I might consider taking it a bit further.
    I can visualize a website filled with pictures of people who have acted so boorishly. NJJerks.com, NJLoudmouths.com, and NJHecklers.com are all available domain names. 🙂

  8. Jill says:

    Hecklers are cowards; they shoult their insightful comments from out a car window and rosr past.
    They always heckle in groups (what fun is it to heckle alone? You need an audience to appreciate your Jovian wit and merry japes!)
    It may not help you feel better, but heckling is an equal opportunity affliction. Women get heckled (I get “Yo, Baby!” from men thirty years my junior. I wish it would stop but I fear it will carry on until I’m 80), my hubby, who is in several bike clubs, gets heckled for wearing spandex (“faggot!”) and riding a bike (“Get off the road!”) Asians get heckled, Orthodox Jews get heckled, albinos, little people, Muslims, fat people, black people, hispanics, everyone gets a dose of venom.
    It seems that quite a few men (hecklers are almost never women, we do other types of mean things) carry a load of free-floating hate. It’s a mystery why humans, who can be boundlessly kind and generous can also be so cruel.
    I’m terribly sorry. Next time, try mooning them.

  9. autismvox says:


  10. autismvox says:

    Jim had his share of it to, sometimes from the teachers (the nun ones in particular). It’s one reason I prefer that Charlie’s in a ‘special’ school but the real world is, indeed, a different place. I know how I can respond as a mother; not sure what to teach Charlie, other than ignoring.

  11. autismvox says:

    I have been tempted to wear this t-shirt (which I own).
    Or to get this t-shirt for Charlie.

  12. mothersvox says:

    I love the idea of taking photographs of the hecklers. I think it would be awesome if you made a Flickr page of these photos entitled People Who Heckle and Harass Kids on the Spectrum. Everyone could add their own pictures. It could be a community project. Makes me feel very angry and very sad too. Ignorance is no excuse.

  13. mothersvox says:

    And love that WTF t-shirt. I think I need one, too.

  14. Jill says:

    Love the WTF one but I’m afraid the “Stop Honking” one will only make them do it more.
    Picture the scenario. Three teens are riding around. They spot someone wearing the shirt.
    Teen one: “Yo! Lookit that guy! He looks gay!”
    Teen two: “His jeans are gay-looking.”
    Teen one: “I’m gonna honk at him!”
    Teen three speaks up from the back seat: “You can’t, you guys. Lookit his shirt. It says ‘No Honking’ so you can’t.
    Teen one: “Oh, right.”
    Teen two: “It would be cruel and… wrong.”
    Teen three: “Let’s go egg the synagogue instead!”

  15. autismvox says:

    That is what I thought about ‘stop honking’ (so I haven’t clicked ‘add to cart’) but I sure like those BIG ORANGE LETTERS.

  16. Jen says:

    Kristina- I’d think very hard about taking pictures of hecklers in public. It might escalate a bad situation into a very unpleasant one if the wrong person happens to notice you taking a picture of them, and 911 doesn’t always respond in the minute that it can take for things to go all to hell.
    We go through the same thing on occasion, and it breaks my heart. I don’t have a better strategy than ignoring- I wish that I did, but I haven’t come across one yet. And it is not made any easier by the size of our sons- I’m already dreading the adult years in some ways.
    Hang in there.

  17. autismvox says:

    Glad you brought that up. My main thought in all this is, what is best for Charlie, as far as keeping him at ease?
    I just figure this sort of thing is inevitable. Charlie doesn’t live in a bubble and we can’t protect him from everything—no parent can. Probably a good strategy is to think about how to model for Charlie how he might respond.

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