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Today, my son Braeden and I took advantage of the warm weather and ventured to the park after his school day ended. The park is a place I enjoy best when it’s just Braeden and I for many reasons.

For the first hour, I hovered close to watch Braeden attempt to join in with other children or just say “hi” to introduce himself. After several rejections, relentlessly he succeeded and was now “it” in a game of tag. The excitement of being “it” overcame him with a smile so bright, and he played the game with the intent to never not be “it.” To the little girl whose four small words screamed acceptance — “Hi, what’s your name?” — thank you!

toy and wristband

Shortly after the game started, I observed small interactions between Braeden and his newfound friends. One boy grabbed Braeden’s autism safety alert wristband and exclaimed, “What’s this?” Proudly, Braeden responded, “It’s my wristband that says I’m a boy with autism.” The boy turned to me and said in surprise, “He has autism?” I smiled and simply said, “Yes,” not knowing the earful I was about to receive.

This boy, who was no more than 10 years old, began to assure me that my 7-year-old son with autism was very lucky. I thought, how nice of him to say — but that thought was shrouded by what followed. “He’s smart, are you sure he has autism? And my mom says autism comes from vaccines. Was he vaccinated?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing as I held back my words and smiled because this little boy is 10 and I’m not his mother. It wasn’t easy. As an autism advocate, I wanted to voice my opinion — but I was once 10, and what my parents said was law.

To the vaccination and autism expert of a mother, I wish you were there today so I could understand this theory. It’s one I’ve heard before, but it was recently stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there is no link between vaccines and autism. To the next parent wanting to explain autism to their child without autism, proceed with caution; your words mean more than you know.

The truth is autism is not easily defined because it’s a spectrum disorder, and although there are similarities among children with autism, the differences set each child apart. If you want help defining autism, I suggest this great book I purchased to teach my own child with autism, “Ethan’s Story: My Life With Autism.” If your child is an auditory and visual learner, try this great video on YouTube, “What is Autism.” Although my favorite awareness educator is my 7-year-old with autism: “Autism means my brain thinks a little bit differently than everybody else, but that’s okay, because it’s kind of cool that I see the world in a beautiful way.”

boy sitting on slide
Kathleen’s son, Braeden, at the park.

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