What I Learned After My Son With Autism Went to an 8th-Grade Dance Alone


I am so naive. I pride myself in educating others about autism as a parent of a child with autism, and yet I still have so much to learn.

I am neurotypical. I don’t have autism. I may have an understanding of what it means to accept and love a different view of the world, but I am not, nor will I ever be, a real part of that world. I will always be an outsider looking in. Just like my son, Ryan, will never quite fully be a natural-born citizen of the neurotypical world.

But that doesn’t mean we will ever give up trying to understand each other’s unique view of the world we both were born into.

For hours leading up to Ryan heading out the door to attend his 8th-grade graduation dance, I was an anxious hot mess. He was going by himself, not with a date and not with a group. He was walking into a gymnasium full of pubescent turmoil alone. He is braver than any 14-year-old boy (or girl) I know.

My mind and my heart raced all day. Would he spend all night alone? Would kids talk to him? Would he feel lonely? My husband told me I needed to give Ryan space, and I knew he was right. After I watched my teenage boy walk into his 8th-grade graduation dance alone, high-fiving kids and smiling as he was greeted by classmates, I was relieved my anxiety was all for nothing. He was fine.

Until hours later when he wasn’t fine.

Just minutes after Ryan exited the car for the dance, I sent the picture above of my handsome boy to a girlfriend who knew I was a hot mess all day. Along with the photo, I actually texted these words to her: “My alone is not his alone.”

I could not have ever texted more ignorant, careless words.

My son’s autism doesn’t make lonely suck any less for him. Lonely still hurts. Dancing with yourself is still terribly painful. Wanting to fit in and not having the tools to do that can be catastrophic for a teenager, autism or no autism.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

As much as I love sharing the details of our journey with you, some things I must keep private out of respect for my boy. Suffice it to say, after he returned home from the dance, I was proven wrong with my ignorant words: “My alone is not his alone.”

Alone is alone. Lonely is lonely. Heartache is heartache. Period.

And when you want a friend and need a friend and you find yourself alone on the dance floor, it hurts like hell. My son’s autism isn’t a buffer for that pain or any pain.

So, to my beautiful boy, I am terribly sorry for my ignorance. I am sorry I was so wrong. And like I promised you, as I held all 125 pounds of you in my arms, I will do everything in my power to help others see who they’re missing. To help them understand your world all while trying to help you understand theirs.

I hope some day there will be enough acceptance and understanding and enough education and kindness that in time our worlds will be one and we can celebrate all the beautiful differences that make this one world so absolutely perfect.

Follow this journey on The Awenesty of Autism.

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.

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