Why I Initiate the Conversation About My Daughter Being on the Autism Spectrum
Moms, dads, grandparents and caregivers everywhere, let this serve as your official warning: If I am out in public with my little girl, and she begins to “act out” in a way that is foreign to you, I will initiate a conversation.
I will talk about something which you might not know how to respond.
I will meet your gaze and tell you my daughter’s name is Piper, and she has autism. I am that mom.
Please don’t mistake my intentions. I will not initiate that conversation to make excuses for my child any more than I will utter those words with the intent of backing you into a corner. My goal is quite the opposite. I’ll tell you she has autism to open the door to reciprocal conversation. I’ll want you to know that as my reality plays out before your eyes, it is OK to ask questions. I will tell you her name to make her “real” to you, and not just some child having a hard time in a parking lot or on a playground.
I will tell you as little or as much as you care to hear. I will tell you autism is different for every child. I will tell you the behaviors Piper is exhibiting may seem odd to you (like continuous spinning or repetitive actions) but they are actually helping ground her in a situation that is beginning to feel overwhelming. I may even get personal, if the conversation leads that way, and tell you how painful it is when people choose to look away, as if she and what she is experiencing don’t exist at all. Because when it comes down to it, regularly averted eyes and silence hit me with a much greater force than any words someone could speak out loud. Because even if words are hurtful, I know Piper is present to the person speaking them.
I am that mom. I will tell you about Piper if you’ll let me. Perhaps we will have a meaningful conversation. That is my ultimate goal. Even if you don’t know how to follow up to what I have told you, and you change the subject or move on, maybe I will have given you something to think about later. Maybe you’ll look up some information about autism in your down-time, and the next time you find yourself in that situation with another mom like me, you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out. Maybe the information you find will enable you to give an informed answer to your own child when they ask you why my daughter was acting a certain way. As long as a door opens somewhere as the result of my words, awareness will have spread a little bit more.
I seek to spread autism awareness because it is key to the future of children like Piper. The little conversations you have with your children about her, and others like her, will shape how she is viewed and treated by her peers. This has a direct impact on self-esteem, especially in social settings, which can be most challenging for anyone on the autism spectrum.
My experience as the mother to a child with autism has taught me that sometimes people don’t know what to say, and other times, they don’t know if it’s OK to ask questions. By initiating a conversation that might feel uncomfortable to you, I am giving you my permission (practically begging you, as a matter of fact) to ask away. I am an open book, and Piper’s story is still being written. If, in response to what I say to you during our brief encounter, you step out of your comfort zone and learn, this gives you the power to help write a positive chapter somewhere in her story. Just by learning, you have the opportunity to positively impact a life. I believe that can be rewarding for both of us.
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