When a Man Called My Son Having Autism a ‘Tragedy’


He nearly stumbled over the stroller, the elderly man with the kind eyes who apologized, then bent down to speak to my son, Justin. “Hi there, buddy!” he said exuberantly, then put up his hand for a high-five.

Justin simply stared at the proffered hand, then glanced away.

The man looked up at me quizzically, and I responded with, “He doesn’t talk — he has severe autism,” and as I watched, his face crumpled in dismay.

“I’m so sorry” he said. “That’s a tragedy. God bless you.” He straightened up and walked away.

And as I watched him stroll to the canned goods section the words flowed into my mind, if not my mouth: “My son is not a tragedy.”

My son is not a tragedy.

Are there aspects of my child’s disability I find tragic? Yes, there are. I will always lament the fact that he will be on this earth for half his life without his parents to care for him, nurture him, love him. Even though I’m aware that he may have competent caregivers for those decades, I still find it heartbreaking to think he might miss us, might wonder why we no longer visit him. I worry his caretakers might miss medical issues, might not feed him well.

I worry they won’t love him.

I am confident these concerns will follow me to my grave.

But that’s where the tragic element of my son’s autism ends for me.

I no longer regret the more traditional trappings of the life I’d envisioned for my son. When I carried him in my womb, I took for granted his life would include college, career, friends and a partner who would cherish him. There are days when I still ache for those things for my son. But over the past few years, I’ve begun to see that needing those traditional milestones to achieve happiness is my issue, not his.

After many years, my son is mostly joyful, ebullient. My child, who generally wants to be home and playing with his DVD player, doesn’t need his mother’s dreams to be content, fulfilled. He is smart. He reads. He rides horses passionately. He loves his little brother. He adores popcorn and movies and everyone at his school. He shares his joy of the world in ever-abundant kisses and hugs. He embodies kindness.

He’s made his own life, contoured it to his own wishes.

And if I could go back to that grocery store and conquer the lump in my throat, I’d tell that well-meaning but mislead man just this.

My son, my beautiful boy, is not a tragedy.

He is a triumph.

Follow this journey on Autism Mommy-Therapist.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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