themighty logo

The Unexpected 'Look' I Got When Explaining My Daughter's Autism and ADHD to an Old Colleague


They say that the eyes are windows to the soul, and I do believe that your eyes never lie. No matter what emotion we are trying to hide, to fight, to keep in check, the eyes are the big giveaway. I am not talking about the obvious eyes raised heavenwards or goggly-eyed staring, I mean those micro expressions that really give away your inner thoughts.

I recently bumped into someone I worked with about 10 years ago. I have always liked her and the confidence she seemed to always exude, so it was really nice to happen upon her. We asked all the usual catch-up questions about life, family, etc., and of course came a question about my daughter. “How is E doing?” Instead of the “Fine,” “She’s great,” “Growing up fast,” I thought I would be completely honest. I said that she was well but we have had our challenges and she was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

I didn’t know how she would react, but I was surprised. She didn’t turn away, she didn’t put on the head-to-one-side “Oh dear” face, she didn’t make the I’m-smiling-a-forced-smile-because-I-really-don’t-know-what-else-to-do face, nor did the Oh-my-that-must-be-awful crumpled face make an appearance. Instead, those lovely, dark eyes never deviated from looking at me, and I could see a very subtle welling up of tears. Nothing over the top, just a genuine empathetic response. I could almost hear what she was thinking — “That must be tough, I’ll try and imagine how I would feel.” It made me relieved, warm towards her and really proud of myself for having the guts to share something so shrouded in mystery, lack of understanding and misconceptions.

She may never know how her genuine, caring reaction helped me when I most needed it. When I saw her the following day (our daughters are at the same holiday club) I thought there would be awkwardness, that she might give a distant wave and scurry off — but no, I was wrong. She came back up to me, said “Hi,” started chatting about how her day had been, other old colleagues she knows. She made me feel I could do this. I have tears in my eyes typing this (not for the first time) because I hadn’t realized how nervous I was about telling friends and family about our lovely girl; how I have perhaps been isolating myself expecting the reaction to be negative. I’m going to write that planned email to our friends and family now, and I hope their responses are as warm as this old friend’s was. Even if I don’t see her for another 10 years, she has made a true, deep impact — thank you for making “the look” you gave me when I spoke about my daughter’s ASD and ADHD so different from what I expected.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.