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To the Stranger Who Called My Son With Autism Rude When He Wouldn't Talkcd

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There’s only one way to get it off my chest, so I’m writing it in a blog.

You upset me today. You made me cry. You made me feel awful, and that isn’t OK.

I don’t know if upsetting me or being hurtful was your intention, but that was the result.

I arrived to pick my daughter up from the regional Girl Guides Thinking Day and happened to stand next to you. I had my 5-year-old son with me. He was in a mood and completely hyperactive. At one point, he stood calmly next to me, holding my hand and listening to the speeches.

Jenna Cooksley

You smiled at him and said, “Hello.”

My son doesn’t know you. So he did what he does when he’s uncomfortable — he hid behind me and refused to look at you or respond.

“Wow, that’s rude,” you said to me. “Won’t even say hi to me.”

I smiled at you because when someone insults my son in ignorance, that’s all I can respond with.

A few minutes later, he’d calmed down enough to say, “Mum, can I go to the playground and play please?” I replied in the affirmative, and he ran off happily to play.

“Ah, so he can speak when he wants to go play,” you joked.

After a few years of speech therapy he’ll talk, but he won’t talk to people he doesn’t know,” I replied.

You responded with, “Well, it’s probably a good thing he doesn’t talk to strangers.”

I wish I’d said something more. But I didn’t. I stood and proceeded to watch my daughter interact with the other guides.

There was so much I wish I’d said to you.

I wish I’d told you how he barely spoke more than a few words until he was 3. About how he would then only speak in one-word answers, never saying more than he absolutely had to. He’d rather point than speak.

I wish I’d told you about how far he’s come since he was diagnosed with autism when he was barely 2 years old. That he’s had years of speech therapy to get him to learn how to respond when people talk to him and how this “phase” of not talking to people he doesn’t know is stressful for him — and for me. Some people shrug and accept that not all kids like to talk to people they don’t know, while others give the impression that it’s either bad parenting or a rude child. Neither is true in the case of my son.

I wish I could have told you how much your words hurt. How I went for a walk away from the group and cried because you made me feel like I should have made my son speak to you.

How I worry that he won’t be able to ask for help if he gets lost because he may not speak to anyone.

How I worry that if he’s bullied or hurt at school, he’ll shut down and not be able to talk to anyone.

How he might become isolated and alone because he shuts down and won’t talk.

How many other parents judge the fact that he won’t talk to them, and how some people perceive it as rudeness rather than a shutdown.

I don’t make excuses for my children’s behavior. Autism doesn’t mean they can’t be rude. But I’m not going to make my child speak to someone if he isn’t comfortable doing so. His body and his words are his. They are his to share or not to share. I won’t ever make my children hug people that they don’t want to. It’s their body, and they make their own choices about who to share personal space with.

I wish I’d been able to tell you about all the challenges my son has overcome. He goes to a mainstream school and doesn’t need an aide. He is clever and knows the alphabet, while most of the other kids are still learning it. He’s bright, vivacious and loves to chat with people — once he knows them and is comfortable with him.

I wish I could have told you all of this.

But I just smiled at you and pretended your ignorance and hurtful offhand comments didn’t hurt me to the core.

I wish you’d understood.


The Mother of Two Amazing Children

Follow this journey on Adventures of the Now.

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? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: March 9, 2016
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