When I was still a child, my parents would always take me to family parties and introduce me to many uncles, aunts, and cousins. Whenever I thought I met them all, the next time they would get together, more relatives would turn up. But I did not mind that. As my pops used to say, everyone is somewhat related to you in the Latino community.
Most of my encounters with my extended family members were incredible. They would dote on the kids and keep offering us food. And when it was time to leave, it would be impossible not to come home with at least 300 bucks because the adults would almost always give you money.
If there were one awful encounter that I could recall, it would be that time when Regina and her three-year-old daughter, Mia, visited the United States.
Who Are They?
From what I understood, Regina was the wife of one of my dad’s second cousins. The cousin migrated to the US two years ago, but he only had the money to bring his family here now. Before I could get out of the car that day, though, my mom delicately informed me to be patient and gentle with Mia because she was pretty special.
Of course, no nine-year-old would know what that meant, but I nodded anyway. When we arrived at the party, I paid the usual respect to the elders. I immediately saw Regina as well, and I thought that she seemed like a lovely lady. Her English was not fluent yet, but I know enough Spanish to converse with her. Then, she pointed me to the garden, where she said Mia was playing with the other kids.
I did not need to be accompanied to that spot. As I neared the garden, one of my same-age cousins, Lola, came up to me and whispered, “Mia is special.” I heard that word again. Curious, I let Lola drag me to where Mia sat on the grass field.
When I was finally facing to face with the three-year-old, I did not see any specialness. For sure, Mia looked like a doll in her dress and all, but everyone did in this family, modesty aside. When I looked at Lola questioningly, she knelt in front of the little girl and started trying to talk to her in Spanish.
Lola had been speaking for five minutes straight, and Mia never looked up once. I wondered if she was shy, but my cousin did not use English on purpose to avoid scaring her. Even when the other kids flocked around the little girl, she continued sitting on the ground. Oh, that special, I thought.
What I Found More Shocking
The family gathering had not ended yet when I witnessed another shocking thing. I was on the way to the bathroom to pee when I heard a woman’s hushed angry tones and a child crying. I took a peek and saw that Regina was smacking Mia’s butt. From what I heard, she was upset because her kid kept acting oddly.
Since I grew up in the US, I had always thought that hitting a child was a major crime. But my parents said that it was pretty standard where they grew up, so I kind of understood if Regina implemented the same rule at her home; what shocked me more once that she was punishing her daughter for being different.
Fast Forward To 2021
Regina and Mia did not stay long in the United States. Dad’s cousin moved back with them, so we never saw them again.
As for me, I grew up to become a counselor. Everyone kept asking me why, and I could not always give them a straight answer. I mean, how could I tell them that I wanted to learn to counsel so that I could help children with special needs and teach mothers like Regina how to be a good influence on daughters like Mia? That would merely raise a lot of questions, so it was better to stay mum on that.
As I began practicing counseling, I realized that there were indeed many parents who kept trying to treat their autistic kids like normal children. Meaning, they would order them to do something, and then they’d get mad if the child could not follow simple instructions.
In such cases, I would remind the parents that kids with autism were wired differently from others. While regular children might understand an instruction at once, you need to keep reminding an autistic kid about what they should do. Hence, sticking to a routine for a long while was always my primary recommendation.
More importantly, even if such kids would not show many emotions, it did not mean that your hurtful words won’t sting them.
I’m hoping to visit my parents’ homeland and see how Mia is doing soon.