To the Store Employee Who Heard My ‘Odd’ Request for My Child With Autism

Dear “Santa Jay,”

I walked into your hardware store on December 5, 2014, not as a consumer, but as a mom. A mom who has a child with autism. I was no stranger to what I was about to do, as I have done it with other businesses more times than I can count. I was fully prepared for the “odd” look I assumed I was about to get by asking questions like, “Excuse me, but do you have anything that resembles a panel horn?” (My 4-year-old taught me that it’s the control box that controls the fire alarms in large buildings) and “Do you have any boxes with pictures of microwaves on them?” Yes, I know that bewildered head tilt, eyebrow raise and wide-eyed look all too well. It’s the look of confusion, surprise and sometimes judgment of my ability as a parent.

Brittany Miller.2

I’m sorry to say that as you greeted me with a “Can I help you with anything today, ma’am?” I had already judged you and your reaction falsely. I spouted off my normal speech. “Yes, I know this is going to sound like an odd question, but do you have any keys that have been miscut that I can buy from you? My 4-year-old has autism, and he is obsessed with keys.” I waited for your eyebrows to raise and your eyes to widen as you soaked in my question, but you didn’t give me a funny look or even attempt to raise an eyebrow. Instead, what you said to me is something I will never forget. Do you remember what you said to me? I do. I remember it word for word.

“That’s actually not a weird question at all. I get one or two parents a year who ask for those.”

What you said may not sound like much, but to a mom who often feels lonely, isolated, judged and living in a world others don’t understand, your words really translated to this: You are not alone.

And in that one moment, on the date of December 5, 2014, and in that one single second, I didn’t feel like I was.

Your response gave me much more than happiness. It gave me hope, it showed me compassion and it demonstrated acceptance for my child and the world he is living in. Do you remember what you did next?

You then led me to a bucket filled to the brim with miscut keys, and you even helped me pick out some you thought my son would like while telling me, “Take as many as you want, free of charge, and come back anytime for more.”

Brittany Miller.4-001

This leads us to now, more than a year later, and your words have still helped me get through some of my hardest days. My son is still obsessed with keys, and he carries them everywhere he goes. He even has “key breaks” at school as a reward for good behavior. Those keys that you so graciously offered to me for my child have become his biggest and best calming mechanism thus far.

Over the past year, I have brought my son into your place of employment several times to pick out new keys to add to his obsession. Sometimes we see you, and sometimes we don’t. But just recently I stopped by to get keys from “Santa,” and I had the pleasure of speaking to you again. You asked me, “How is the little guy doing?” and once again, your compassion brought me to the verge of tears.

So I want to say thank you “Santa Jay” for not just for giving me and my child the material object we were seeking, but for reminding me I am not alone. That we are not alone on our autism journey. My son’s obsession with keys may fade over time, but I can promise you that the words you spoke to me never will.


One of many mothers who has a child with autism

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