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When a Group of People Asked My Son on the Autism Spectrum to Stay

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Autism moms I am familiar with, as well as myself, are ready to spring into action at any time. We come prepared with food, toys and other supplies as needed. When planning an outing to a new location, I will usually visit the place or event first so I have an idea of what to expect and know exactly where to go. As an autism mom, we are also used to exiting an event sooner than we planned due to escalating behaviors.

This was very much the case as we started out on a cool Sunday afternoon with our family. My 5-year-old son who is on the spectrum has been showing an interest in music. With this interest and others that have surfaced, we have been seeking out non-obtrusive opportunities for him to experience the respective subject.

On this particular afternoon, we were on our way to our first family-friendly drum circle a friend had told me about. We were excited to go and didn’t want to wait an extra month to complete a preliminary research visit. My husband and I agreed we would see what happens and be open to the option of leaving earlier than planned if needed.

As we arrived at the drum circle, a large group had informally assembled. As we entered the area, we went through the process of burning sage (smudging). My son found this fascinating since he always enjoys watching smoke. The group volunteers happily let him explore. In fact, he even played with a drum on the table, which isn’t something he would normally do. The larger group assembled around the bonfire, and we let our son work his way over to the group on his own time. Once closer, he spotted another fascination — fire.

After spotting the fire, he then made it his mission to get inside the circle to be closer to it. Unsure of the drum circle protocol, we did our best to keep him out of the circle. This led to several protests from my son, and after a short time, we decided to head home as the behaviors escalated.

As we were picking up our things, a lady with red hair came over. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she let us know that it was completely fine to let him go in the middle of the circle. She said, of course, they wanted him to be safe around the fire, but we knew from experience he wouldn’t touch it. This lady among several others asked us to stay.

He entered the large circle undaunted (which was unusual for him) and went straight up to the fire. The woman leading the night was in the center talking. Feeling a bit out of place for the moment, her words floated over me until one sunk in — beautiful. She called my boy, a boy she had never formally met, beautiful.

We stood there for some time. Watching the drummers. Watching the dancers. Watching my son dance, unfiltered, free in front of a crowd of over 100 people. He was in the presence of a group that said stay. He was in the presence of a group that let him be who he was. He was in the presence of a group of people who didn’t know him, but took the time to show love.

I sat on the sidelines speechless and in tears. It’s not hard to notice the stares in the store when my son has his behaviors. For some time, it has been my wish to have my son around people that fully accepted him. Just to see how it would feel.

Wanting to stick to our bedtime for the kids, we had to end the night early. As we left, people came up to us thanking us for bringing our son. This, too, was a first for me. There were times we had faced challenges at the store or the mall, and I wanted someone to tell me it was OK. On this night, people actually did come forward.

That night my son received 100 percent heartfelt acceptance. For the first time in my experience, people didn’t simply claim acceptance, they stood up and took action. For the first time, the stares weren’t due to behavior, but were given with admiration and love. One hundred plus members of this drum circle family have no idea that on a cool evening they were participants of a small miracle.

Follow this journey on Spectrum Lane.

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Originally published: July 6, 2016
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