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How Others Make Me and My Son With Autism Feel Invisible

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I remember the first time I truly felt it — being invisible. My son had just started pre-school and they were hosting a Halloween party. I was so excited to be a part of his new school adventures. Having a little guy on the spectrum, we rarely experienced any of the “normal” things. We didn’t get birthday invitations, we didn’t meet other families at the park, we didn’t get asked over for play dates. It was a hard part of the reality of having a child with autism. If was lonely. It made me sad for him.

The neighborhood I lived in was primarily stay-at-home moms. I work. The kids in my son’s class were all neurotypical. He has autism. All the little kids loved wearing costumes. He hated to wear them. The moms all had beautiful long blonde hair. Mine was short and brown. All the kids chatted and laughed non-stop. Mine doesn’t use words, he is nonverbal. All these things really didn’t matter to me until I realized they made us invisible. Why? We were different.

I had a dreamy little notion that I would come to his pre-school that day and we would be welcomed, included, and me and my little guy would be a part of this community; our community.

Bless my little ball of sensory swirling. He was not happy I had put him in a costume and he let everyone know it. He was too hot, so the costume came off in quick fashion. Someone had brought cupcakes. Not cupcakes! He is obsessed with cupcakes, loves them. It is actually the only word he says “cuuuuuupcake.” He was like a heat seeking cupcake missile. Would. Not. Stop. Was he overwhelmed? Totally. Was I handling it just fine? Totally. I have a child with autism, this is par for the course for me. I handle it. No big deal. He has autism. He has huge sensory issues. He was 3, give the kid a break. For Pete’s sake, give me a break.

I looked over to this row of what looked like perfectly perched moms. All of them looking and whispering. Looking at my son with that, “what is wrong with him?” look. Looking at me with that, “can’t you control him?” look. Just staring. Just whispering. I had never seen anything so blatant. So I warmly smiled at them. You know, to let them know I could actually see them. But they didn’t really see me and they didn’t really see my son. We were invisible.

I wish this wasn’t part of the memory of my first event at my son’s school. I wish people could take classes on what to do in situations like this. I wish the world knew to smile and find empathy and compassion, because we aren’t all the same, and staring and whispering truly is never helpful. Ever.

It made me sad that people could behave in a way that leads to feelings of invisibility. Especially when you are dealing with a demographic that already struggles so much with isolation.

Near the end of the party, one mom did see me. She broke away from the group and introduced herself. She smiled and she was warm. She came to tell me how much her daughter liked Noah, and that she always said how funny he was. It just took one person. One act of kindness. One moment. She gave me and my son visibility. We belonged. It was huge.

Invisibility and having a child with autism can feel so hard, but I don’t get upset or sad about it any longer. I am grateful for what it has taught me. It truly is a gift to understand the value of seeing people. What an honor it is to offer warmth to someone. To know that one simple act of kindness can make such a difference in a person’s life.

My son doesn’t use words, but he sure teaches me a lot. I wouldn’t trade that heat seeking cupcake missile boy for anything. I think he is kind of awesome, “Tasmanian” behavior and all.

Follow this journey at Alisa Hutton’s blog.

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Getty image by Archv

Originally published: March 9, 2018
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