If I Could Go Back to the Moment Someone Apologized for My Son’s Autism


The other day, I was stuck in line next to what appeared to be a lovely older woman about my mom’s age. She wore her wispy, ginger- colored hair in a bob. We were standing there forever and had an opportunity to talk, the I-saw-her-Facebook-photos-of-her-dog kind of time. In the course of our discussion, I mentioned my children. She had grandchildren, and we chatted about the similarities and differences between siblings. At some point, I stated that my son has autism, and her reply shut me down — a phenomena that does not happen often.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered in a hushed tone, turning to glance out the window.

Time stood still.

There was no answer that came to my mind.

Did this woman just apologize for my son having autism?

He’s amazing.

And not just amazing, but f*cking amazing.

But my mind didn’t register a response. I stood there clinging my worn backpack in my hands, searching the confines of my mind to say something other than a profanity-laden rant. I paused, and then I made a calculated decision not to respond in that way. That choice was based upon the certainty that her statement was not made with malice but pure ignorance.

This saddens me.

There is enough evidence in the world to support the wonder of children with autism. There is a one in 68 chance of having a child who falls on the rainbow somewhere. ( I choose to see the spectrum as a rainbow of spectacular colors demonstrated in variances of one shade to another.) Surely this person has crossed paths with an autistic child, even if they didn’t know it.

Could I have chosen to educate her? Yes, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have educated her in that moment. I would have spewed anger instead of education, hostility instead of hope. My words would have not done anything to advance autism acceptance, but instead may have hurt it.

If I could go back to that moment, now that I have had an opportunity to calm down, I wish I had told her that, yes, challenges that can come with autism can be trying, but so can every other step of parenting. That my path has led me to learn not to change the boy, but to change myself. That I am a stubborn woman who has learned to follow the river through the meandering bends, not knowing what is around the corner. That sometimes the straight path is not the right path, and that the water all flows to the same point — it’s just how we get there that’s different.

I should have shared with her how I was afraid of the water, after having been caught in an undertow as a child, but because this persistent, amazing child wouldn’t take no for an answer, his mom learned to scuba dive because he wanted to, he needed to. I should have told her how this child has made me a better person, has opened the world for me, not the other way around. That as a parent, when he was born, I pledged to bring him opportunities and excitement in his life, but the reality is he has brought them to me. I should have told her that because of him, I have learned what the world has to offer. I have seen the good and the bad, and the truth is, there is more good. My son is surrounded by people who love him, support him, and buoy him.

I should have told her to open her eyes and look around, because she is surrounded by people who live on the rainbow, and they are doing remarkable things. They are the brains behind some of the greatest things this world has to offer, the innovations, the designs, the ideas. Autism is not a “curse.” I believe it is a gift for my child and for me.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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