To the mother watching my son,
I see you over there, watching with a somewhat quizzical look, afraid to ask questions because you don’t want to offend me, and trying really hard to hide that your eyes keep shifting back to my son. I know that look because many years ago, before my son came into my life and I began to understand what autism was and wasn’t, I had that look too.
I was scared of children who were “different”…I didn’t know what to say to them, how to act and I definitely did not know what to say to a parent. I may have been guilty of saying “I’m sorry” once or twice, something I now deeply regret as it has been said to me on occasion and I now understand what a horrible phrase that can be. So please let me tell you about my son and let me help you learn how to enter his world — because I promise you once you are in, it is for life, and it is a pretty great place to be.
He is different — not less, not weird, not more special than your child, just different. I like to compare this to different ice cream flavors. We are all different flavors, really — each bringing different elements into the world and all ultimately bringing happiness and joy in our own ways. Yes, he has autism, and no, I do not know why. There are days I wish I did, but ultimately that is not important to me. What is important to me is making sure he lives and experiences life to his fullest potential, whatever that may be.
As you watch him, you will see that sometimes he spins in circles, a ritualistic behavior that I have come to realize calms him when he is feeling overwhelmed. And often, loud noises, especially televisions, are too much for his sensory system, and he might yell until it is turned off. But please know this is not my child demanding to have his way; rather, this is his way of trying to stop the over-stimulation that could quite possibly be causing him physical pain.
He might not say much to you at first, in fact he might not acknowledge you at all — but do not mistake that for not listening, because believe me, that is far from the truth. My boy listens and hears everything going on around him, often times referring back to things said from days before.
And even though he might not give you the acknowledgement in the traditional form you are looking for, he will remember. He will remember that you spoke to him. And it may not be the next time, but eventually he will speak back to you — when he is ready. Please do not rush him, and please be patient enough to wait for him because he is worth it.
When my boy is happy, a certain warmth and love emanate from his entire being, and when he laughs that pure and uninhibited laugh, it is with his whole body, something that is amazing to see and impossible to not get caught up in. When you become one of “his people,” you will find that his infectious spirit stays with you even you are apart. I really cannot explain it — I can just feel it even now as I type this while he is spending his day at school. Yes, I am his mother, so I might sound a little biased, but trust me, “his people” love him just as much as he loves them.
I know that often times things we are not familiar with can cause fear and uncertainty. I was once just like you, so I recognize the look on your face and the questions in your eyes. And for that reason, I am reaching out to you to say it is OK to ask me questions, and no, you will not offend me. What will offend me is if you turn away and do not try to open your heart to an incredible child. He is worth it, as is every child and adult on the spectrum. Take the time to get to know him and to find a way into his world. And believe me — you will not regret it.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.