A couple years after my son, TJ, was diagnosed with autism, I wanted to give back to the people who had helped me so much to get through the difficult time of diagnosis. So I became a support parent through a local organization. As a support parent, I was matched up with a newly diagnosed family. I spoke with them on the phone about all these new terms being thrown at them, what the different therapies entailed and our successes and struggles.
I loved it. It wasn’t always easy, and although I sometimes felt exhausted by my own family’s journey, I thought it was important to help someone else dealing with the same thing.
Finally I was given a family in my own town to support. Our kids went to the same school. I saw the mom every day at school pick up. It was so nice to be able to casually chat in person about what we both were dealing with as we learned more and more about autism.
This mom who I supported had a new baby — a beautiful little girl. When she finally brought her baby to the school for pick up, I said to the mom that her baby looked exactly like her big brother. He was a beautiful boy with autism who was doing so, so well.
This mom looked directly at me and said, “Don’t say that. He’s damaged goods.”
My stomach dropped. I felt sick. I suddenly found it difficult to stand next to this woman.
So I went to the bench and sat down, trying to digest what I’d just heard.
There was no indication that this woman had been having a particularly bad day or that her son was, either. We’d been chatting. We’d been smiling. We’d been laughing.
All that ended when I said her baby resembled her big brother.
And then I felt the heat of a strong anger I’d never felt before. If she thinks her son is “damaged goods,” then she thinks my son with autism is too.
And that could not be further from the truth.
My son and hers are both perfect the way they are. We’re helping them understand how society works around them and how they can grow up to be contributing members.
They’re not burdens, and they’re not damaged goods. Never have been, never will be.
I called our local organization and told them I was not going to be a support parent for this family anymore. Maybe I gave up where I could have made a difference, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to this woman again.
I think we’re from different planets. Because when I look at her son and mine, I see beautiful smiles and potential for a happy, fulfilling life.
I see no damage. None at all.
Eventually as time went on, I stopped being a support parent all together. I wanted to devote all my energy and efforts into my own family and our daily happenings.
I often wonder if I should have stuck it out with this family — that maybe I could have helped the situation somehow. But I also realized this wasn’t my job. My job was to take care of my own family.
And so I have. And I’ve loved every day of it. Even the tough days. Because none of these kiddos are damaged or need to be fixed. They just need to be taught in a way they can learn. This is different for everyone, autism or not.
These kids of ours are a treasure and a gift. And there is no place in my world for anyone who thinks otherwise.
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