The other night I woke with a vivid memory.
I was in junior high taking band class.
Because I didn't step up quickly when the horn instruments were handed out, I ended up playing the oboe.
The oboe is a woodwind instrument that looks like a clarinet but has a long, double reed. In the Middle Ages it was played by huntsmen and shepherds. It has an unusual, haunting sound.
You can imagine what it was like to hear a group of students play a trumpet or french horn or oboe for the first time.
Our music teacher was kind, exuberant and patient. In time we made progress.
But one day something upset him. I don't remember what it was. Perhaps one of the students purposefully played out of key, or did something to grandstand.
I started to laugh, and I couldn't stop.
The teacher reprimanded me.
I was not a student who got in trouble.
I earnestly wanted to stop laughing, but I became nervous. Very, very nervous.
Now the class was silent and everyone was staring at me.
"Louise, you're being incredibly disrespectful," the teacher said.
"I'm sorry," I said, but giggles continued to splutter out of my mouth.
"Shhh!" whispered the other oboe player.
I was now red with embarrassment, but I couldn't stop.
"Louise!" bellowed the teacher. "That's enough!"
He thought I was defying him. He thought I was laughing on purpose.
I think the reason this memory came to me was because it shows how easy it is to attribute malice to behaviour that is actually prompted by anxiety.
My son has compulsive behaviours that emerge when he's anxious. He knows he's not supposed to do what he's doing, but he gets stuck in repetition.
I think our world is most unaccepting of difference when it involves behaviour. We're most uptight about how people act, more than we are even about a person's abilities or how they look.
It reminds me of a study published in Autism that looked at parenting stress in two groups: one of mothers of preschoolers with autism and the other of mothers of preschoolers with developmental delay. The study found that challenging behaviour was more stressful than a child's need for greater physical care, such as feeding, dressing and toileting.
People have greater compassion for parents who have to help their child with everyday activities other kids have mastered than for parents who are supporting a child who doesn't "fit" social norms.