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A Letter to the Ignorance My Son and Others in the Autism Community Face

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Dear Ignorance,

I feel like we’ve met before. You may not look the same, sound the same or act the same, but it is you. I’m sure of it. We met many years ago when my child was just a toddler. Then I bumped into you again during the elementary years. I’m pretty sure we were together briefly when my son was in middle school, and now, here we are meeting again when he is a teenager.

When I went to introduce you to my son, “Ignorance, this is Ryan, Ryan this is…” I slowly trailed off. I saw the look on Ryan’s face, and I knew that he too has met you before, probably more times than I care to count. Introductions aren’t necessary.

I have sat across desks from you, been seated next to you at restaurants and stood in front of you in the grocery line. At every chance encounter, you have made some ridiculous comment that angered, hurt and shocked me. It would have been so easy to just chuck a pencil, a spoon or a can of peas at you and walk away, but I knew if I did, you would keep coming around again and again, hurting my son and other autistic children and adults like him.

Each and every time we meet, I’m astounded by your ability to shock me with your lack of awareness and knowledge. It’s like you have a complete disregard for anyone who does not fit into the “normal” mold you have created. All the times we run into you, I try to be patient, I try to be kind, I try to educate, but for you, ignorance really is bliss.

Sometimes Ignorance, you are in a position of authority. You are suppose to set an example for others to accept differences and see past labels and stereotypes. You claim to want to help my child, you want to see him fit in and be accepted, yet you don’t really see him yourself. How can I count on you to help him when I obviously need to help you first?

What is most frustrating to me Ignorance, is when you are in a place of power or you are in a leadership role, you have an opportunity to shed who you are and provide an example of awareness, inclusion and kindness, but you don’t. I recognize that in some ways you can’t. I mean, being unaware is who you are, which is precisely why as his mother I don’t chuck the can of peas at your head, walk out, slam the door and give up on you. Giving up on you would mean giving up on my son, and that is never going to happen.

I could tell you that since my son and I have been at this for awhile now, we are sick and tired of the same old song and dance, but we aren’t. Yeah, sure some days we both are astounded by the depth of your obliviousness Ignorance, but the only way to stop you is to educate you. We won’t stop, no matter how many times our paths cross, no matter how much damage you do.

I know my son and I will continue to bump into you in various places. I’m not naive enough to believe you will go away, but I do believe that Acceptance, Awareness and Knowledge will one day pave the way for you. Until they do, I will do the work for them. I will lay the path for Acceptance, Awareness and Knowledge one step at a time, until you finally get it.

I may dread every time I see you coming, Ignorance, but I will not run away. I will not duck in a corner and pretend to not see you. I must educate you to see my son so that others around you will see him, too.

My son and I would like to say goodbye to you forever, but unfortunately, we know we will meet again. Each time our paths cross, you provide new insight into the depth of your insensitivity, which helps prepare us for the next time we meet and helps us to see how much more work needs to be done.

As much as I despise you, Ignorance, I have to admit that you inspire me. You make me want more — more education, more awareness, more acceptance, more compassion. You make me work harder so that my son and others with autism may not have to. I guess in some way, I should be grateful to you.

Here’s a head’s up, Ignorance — you are not bliss. You are harmful and unhealthy, and I really thought you should know.

I wish this was goodbye, but, I know it’s more like, until we meet again. My son and I will be waiting. We will be ready. We will prevail. You know why, Ignorance? Because Acceptance, Awareness and Knowledge will always have our backs. And with them, Ignorance cannot win.

Ryan’s Mom

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Originally published: November 8, 2016
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