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The Choice I Hope People Make When It Comes to My Son With Autism

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Autism is not a choice. Acceptance is.

Take a moment to digest that…

Now imagine you’re at a busy supermarket, and as you approach aisle five you can’t help but notice a woman and her child. The child with his hands over his ears screaming and the woman, who appeared to be his mother, pleading with him to stay calm. The boy reaches out of the cart where he is sitting and begins to aggressively swing his hands at his mother. The mother responds by wrapping her arms around him and saying, “It’s going to be OK.” You go on your way to complete your shopping as if the incident in aisle five had never happened.

Finally at the checkout line, you begin to load your food on to the conveyer belt. Suddenly, you hear in the line next to you the familiar cry of the boy from aisle five. You peek over and watch as his mother tries to keep him from climbing out of the cart, dodging his hands from hitting her, all while she pays the cashier. Again you mind your business, pay for your groceries and make way for the exit. While leaving the supermarket, the woman and child were stopped at the exit by another shopper. As you pass, you hear the shopper say to the mother, “You shouldn’t let him do that to you.” The mother smiled and responded, “My son is autistic, have a nice day.”

OK, so we’ve all seen a child throw a public tantrum. Have you ever rolled your eyes or stared out of judgement of that parent? Saw a child acting out and said under your breath, “If I was that child’s parent…” Or my personal favorite, have you ever approached the parent and told them how to raise their child? If you answered “no” to the above questions, congratulations, I believe you’ve found acceptance. Be proud of it and hold on to acceptance; it exists but sometimes can be rare to see.

The reality is, the boy from aisle five is my son and I am his mother helping him through a meltdown. “Oh, a meltdown — that’s the same as a tantrum.” False. A tantrum, usually associated with young children, can be when the child acts out to overwhelm the parent and in return gains control or gets their way in the situation. A meltdown can happen at any age, the child or adult becomes overwhelmed and loses control of their behavior and sometimes there is no gain. The next time you see a parent struggle with their child at a supermarket, autistic or not, meltdown or tantrum, think before you act. Instead of staring, why not ask the parent if they need any help. My skin is not as thick as the world seems to think it is. Sometimes your stares and whispers don’t bounce right off me, sometimes they pierce my heart.

My child has autism, and he can’t always control his behavior. He did not choose this, but some people without autism choose to not find acceptance. Imagine if the opposite were true. Here’s my slice of awareness pie for Autism Awareness Month, take it or leave it — if you haven’t found acceptance, find it, because it’s a beautiful thing.

boy walking through crowd wearing superhero cape
Kathleen’s son.

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: April 27, 2016
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