When a Lady at the Store Said My Son Would 'Grow Out' of Autism

I was working at our family owned store the other day with my wife, Kelly, and our 8-year-old autistic son, Sean, when a regular customer came in. After browsing for a while, she decided to take a break and have a seat near our checkout counter.

Most Saturdays, Sean sits behind the counter, reading books, eating snacks and making up incredibly involved stories that he “needs” to tell us — usually at the busiest times of the day! Sean has become a fixture at the store, and there are folks who stop in just to see him.

Believe it or not, meltdowns are extremely rare at the store. Sean has his assigned jobs during the day: turning lights on and off when the shop opens and closes, handing shopping baskets to customers who need them, returning them to their proper place when the customer leaves the store, and announcing “Ladies and Gentlemen, the store will close in five minutes!” multiple times throughout the day, to anyone who will listen.

We hadn’t seen this particular customer in a while and asked how she had been. A conversation started from there and eventually came around to Sean. She mentioned she was surprised Sean was still spinning beads around his finger, she thought he would have grown out of that by now.

We explained this wasn’t something we expected him to grow out of anytime soon, that it is a stimming behavior. Again, she asserted it was a phase that would pass and she was surprised it hadn’t.

We usually don’t feel it necessary to announce to the world that Sean is on the spectrum. Regardless of where we are or what the situation is, people can think what they want: he’s a brat, we’re bad parents, he needs a good spanking. Whatever, we don’t care. But in this case, we thought an explanation was almost required to end this part of the conversation and move on to another topic.

As Kelly was explaining the whole “autism thing” to this customer, who was genuinely trying to be helpful, she interrupted with, “Oh
autism, well they say they can outgrow that. So don’t worry honey, he’ll grow out of it.” So… at least we have that to look forward to!

What bothered me most about the conversation was not so much her insistence, but her actual belief that Sean would outgrow his autism. That experience made me want to print a huge banner that reads: “It’s not a phase, it’s autism.”

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