When a Dad Approached Us After My Son With Autism Accidentally Hurt His Child
The last two years since my younger son, now 6 years old, was diagnosed with autism, have brought lots of ups and downs and challenged our family’s way of life. For me, it was permeated with feeling isolated and misunderstood in most of my social experiences. I’m sure this is partly due to closing myself off to perceiving things differently, not through the painful lens of grief. But once in a while, that door would open, and people around me would humble and inspire me with their incredible wisdom and kindness.
This year, I feel indebted to a parent my son and I met at a local playground under not-so-happy circumstances, when my son unexpectedly lunged and toppled to the ground a girl much smaller than him who was drawing with chalk on the sidewalk. The girl’s father scooped up his daughter and looked at me as if asking a question. He said nothing; he didn’t yell at me or my son (which happened to us once before in a grocery store). He just waited for an explanation.
I apologized profusely and explained that my son has autism and that this behavior is new to us, and I was not able to predict and prevent it. Luckily, the little girl didn’t get hurt physically, but she was pretty upset. I helped my son apologize to her, and we quickly retreated to our car, where I just started crying. We couldn’t leave immediately because we had to wait for my other son who played tennis in the nearby courts.
The father and his daughter approached us. He inquired if I was all right and asked for help to explain the incident to his daughter. He said it was important to him that she didn’t think my son was a bad person. It was important to him that she feel comfortable around children with autism. So we talked to her about how my son needs help talking to other children, how he loves drawing with chalk and probably wanted to join her but didn’t know how to ask. She happily went on to ride her bicycle, and we went home.
I don’t know how to convey the sense of responsibility, shame, sadness, anxiety, guilt and horror I feel as a parent when my child hurts another person. These feelings can flood me all at once, making it difficult to function well in the moment. It took me a couple hours to realize the extraordinary thing that happened when this awesome dad of the girl my son hurt approached us. I want him to know he made a difference in my life. I also wonder somewhat anxiously whether he recalls this event as positively as I do. I hope he does.
I’m so grateful to this individual — who was and is a complete stranger to us — for his kindness and understanding, and for his ability to actively express it. It gives me hope when I read stories about lawsuits by neighbors and families being taken off flights due to concerns about their family member with autism. I wonder sometimes if I’d be able to respond this way if I were in his shoes, and I make a renewed commitment to try not to judge, and to practice kindness and acceptance.
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