I've written before about what a useful tool Bud's iPod is. It's especially helpful when we're out shopping - it helps him manage the crowds, the bustle, the noise. It helps him stay focused and calm.
But there is a flip side.
Bud's iPod seems to invite comment from the older generation. Occasionally the remarks are made to the air, but are clearly directed to me, and involve some sort of commentary on the technology-driven isolationism of kids today, with a subtext of judgment about parents who indulge their young children too much - all said, naturally, with a wink and a laugh. That stuff rolls off pretty easily.
More challenging to manage - and more common, unfortunately - are the comments directed to Bud himself. The comments themselves are innocent enough, but it's like the iPod is a magnet for them; we hear them nearly every time we're out in public.
In almost every case, it seems the stranger takes a look at Bud and surmises two things: 1) Bud is listening to music so loud that it would be difficult to hear a comment made to him, and 2) Bud's failure to engage with the strangers around him and his seemingly complete focus on the music he's hearing is an unintended side effect of the iPod and is not, in fact, Bud's intent.
So the stranger leans down to Bud and asks loudly (or, sometimes, even shouts): "WHAT DO YOU HAVE THERE?" or "WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO?" or "CAN I HAVE A LISTEN?" or "HEY, WHAT'S PLAYING?" Bud inevitably pulls back and doesn't answer, which prompts the stranger to either move closer or talk louder or both.
I have not come up with a good response to this yet. Sometimes I try to engage the stranger myself, answering the question and shielding Bud from further interrogation ("He's listening to Dierks Bentley. He's a big fan.") Sometimes I pretend to engage Bud in my answer ("You're listening to Dierks Bentley, aren't you, Bud? You love his music.") And, occasionally, when my mom-sense tells me that this will continue unless I intervene more directly, I say "He's autistic. The iPod helps him feel more comfortable in crowds." I never know how Bud feels about that particular response, so I try to use it sparingly. For the most part, I just smile and nod, and try to get Bud away from the questioner as gracefully as possible.
I have to admit, though, the more it happens, the more I start thinking that the next time we go shopping, maybe I'll wear my iPod, too.