The Simple Word That Can Make My Nonverbal Son’s Day

My teenage son acts differently than most and, as a result, also communicated differently. Despite years of occupational therapy, he can’t wave “hi” or “goodbye” well and he rarely looks at you when you’re talking. However, over the last two years we’ve learned that he is listening, and nothing makes him more upset than when people ignore him.

unnamed Nonverbal autism has robbed him of the ability to conform to society’s social norms. Typical conversation is not easy for him because he has to type out every letter. One. By. One. People become impatient. They walk away, or they try to finish his sentence for him, assuming this “helps.” People will also talk to me about him in front of him as if he was not there. “Does he like sports?” “Can he hear me with those headphones on?”

I could have been this person. Actually, I’m sure I was this person.

Well, with Autism Awareness Month starting on April 1st, consider this your PSA. We have lots to learn when it comes to people with physical and mental differences. I will acknowledge that we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got some room to grow.

Here are the top six things you should know about my son and others like him.

1. He hears everything. Talk to him or just say “hi.” This simple gesture can really make our day.

2. Practice patience. If you ask him a question, please wait for the answer. Quietly. If you don’t have time for a response, just say “hi.” 

3. When you see folks with autism out and about, know that sometimes, this in itself is a tremendous feat. Wave. Smile. And just say “hi.”

4. It’s OK to ask questions. My son types to communicate. It’s different. It’s OK to ask him questions about it. It’s not OK to stare and point. Worse case? Just say “hi.”

5. Teach empathy. We don’t need sympathy or pity. I love my life and autism has been a tremendous blessing. My kid is freakin’ awesome. You should meet him! Just say “hi” and introduce yourself. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

6. Most days, “special needs” appears to mean “ignore.” Really, it just means “unique.” Seriously, if you take one minute to introduce yourself to someone different from you, you’ll leave that conversation a better person.

Now go change the world, people!

This post originally appeared on Hardly Getting By

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