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Why a Judgmental Comment About Our Son With Autism Still Hurts

This weekend was hard.

On Friday, our son, Max, went on a wonderful field trip to the Museum of Natural Curiosity in Lehi, Utah. It was really fun for our family and he had a blast.

The museum is loud and has a lot of lights, sounds and colors. Even though he had a great time, I knew the rest of the day was going to be hard. His brain was on overdrive. He was overstimulated and overwhelmed. One thing after another made him panic, cry, have a tantrum and get upset. He destroyed his bedroom, smeared poop on the walls (I will spare you the picture) and crashed by 7 p.m.

Being overstimulated is something that Max deals with on a regular basis. He has some coping methods, but he’s almost 4, not 12. When he’s really overwhelmed, he flaps his arms, hits his head, screams, cries and acts out. My husband, Will, and I try our best to prepare him for a situation, but there’s no way we can predict how he will react. (This is a great video that shows what sensory overload can be like.)

Church is hard for him. He does well in small groups, but the large sacrament meeting — with sounds coming from everywhere, bright lights and a lot of people — puts his senses into overdrive. Just imagine closing your eyes in a large room. There are sounds everywhere, feet moving on the floor, people talking and the building’s cracking and making noises. Max hears and sees everything, and it’s all very hard on his brain. If he gets too overwhelmed, he either act out, cry, run away, physically hurt himself or others or try his best to use coping skills to deal with the situation. This is what autism looks like for our son. This is what Max deals with daily.

So if you see us at church or any social event, Max might be playing with toy trains, he might be jumping up and down, he might spin in circles in the doorway or hallway of a building, he might be playing on the iPhone or iPad, which allows him to use his voice to tell us what’s wrong.

He might repeat the same thing over and over and get louder and louder, and, of course, we will explain to him what’s appropriate for the situation, but we can’t predict his outbursts. He might hit his head with his hands or run from us, even after calling his name over and over. This is all normal. These things aren’t an indication of our lack of parenting; this is us trying to help our child cope with the world. Because his world can be lonely, scary and really hard.

After someone made a judgmental comment toward us, I posted this on my Facebook page: “Be kind to one another. Judging hurts at any age and in any situation.”

I felt like I needed to defend myself and my child. It wasn’t his fault that an adult didn’t understand him. I had to be his voice. So I posted that in his defense and to recognize that all people deserve to feel loved. All people deserve kindness.

On the outside, Max looks like a typical (almost) 4-year-old. He’s taller than his peers. He wears boys clothes, not toddler clothes anymore. He’s expected to communicate like a 4- or 5-year-old, but he is about two years behind his peers.

People stare at him, and that’s OK. He doesn’t notice for now, but he will. Will and I notice. We notice the whispers and the faces of those who judge the way my child is acting. Will and I have heard it all. We have watched adults and children laugh at Max. It hurts. Max one day will notice, and we’ll be there to love and support him, to tell him how special he is, how smart he is and how lucky he is to have so many people who do support him. I know we have so many people who support us, who care for us and pray for our family, but that doesn’t take the hurt of that one judgmental comment away. Will and I are human, trying to be superheroes to both of our special boys.

Our parenting style has to be different, it has to look different and that’s OK. Just because we’re doing things our way doesn’t make it wrong. Max has taught me to be more compassionate, to care more and to be more understanding of all people. I adore him and his unique traits. I have learned more about trains, firetrucks, “Pocoyo” and construction sites than I ever thought possible. I have also learned how valuable friendships are and how important it is to have a village to help raise a child.

Tiffany Strong the mighty.2-001

Follow this journey on Spaceship Max.