Earlier this week, I had dinner with my sister-in-law, who was saying that she likes checking out other people's homes during playdates, because if they're in worse shape than her, she feels better about herself as a parent. (I.e., she's not a horrible parent and her kids will probably be fine, a reassurance that all parents seek.) She then mentioned that she didn't like coming to my house because my kids listen better than hers.
I made the appropriate noises of reassurance, but it got me thinking. It's not the first time that my kids have been accused/praised of being well behaved in comparison with other kids their age.
Part of it is the consistency necessary for autism. We have to keep expectations constant in order to have a shot at learning. Whereas other kids get "breaks" in keeping good behaviour at home or in other socially appropriate circumstances, my kids wouldn't understand the context of those breaks. So we need to keep their behaviour at a constant level, and we've chosen to aim for a fairly responsible and well-behaved one.
We made that choice because we know that our kids will be at a social disadvantage, but inherent politeness will make up for a fair number of oddities. Someone who is rude and odd is ostracized a lot faster than someone who is polite and odd.
But that's only part of the picture. The other part is that while my sister-in-law might feel bad about how my children behave in comparison, I feel sad looking at my nieces and nephews, knowing that they are going to explore worlds that will probably remain closed to my kids. Their ability to grow up and do things like go to university, get jobs, find relationships, it's all a given, a matter of "how" rather than "if". They'll have chances to do crazy things like spend a year teaching English overseas or backpacking through Europe or Asia, or whatever else their minds come up with.
My kids will require more support and more shelter. Don't get me wrong, I still hope that they'll have long, happy and productive lives, but their type of life is going to be different from the vast majority of their peers.
The real message here is not to let yourself get caught up in comparisons. There will always be people who are worse off, who are better off, or whose appearance doesn't match their reality. Getting stuck in the emotional tides of "what if" distracts from the necessity of dealing with here and now.