The Mighty Logo

When I Didn't Recognize the Woman Next to My Son With Autism

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Who is that woman with my son? She just stands there as my son, Philip, messes up the craft. At this table, the public library has a project in which a coffee filter is supposed to be glued to the top of a green rectangle of construction paper to become a flower on a stem. Philip is gluing it in the middle! Wait, is she helping him do it wrong? Why didn’t she point out how the other kids are doing it the right way? She acts as if this gymnasium is full of families who won’t notice.

Philip should now select a pastel cupcake liner and glue it inside the filter as the flower’s blossom. He touches the pink, blue and yellow cups, but puts the cap back on the glue stick. And that woman lets him.

Now he is moving to the other side of the table. He has discovered the librarian’s stash of black markers. And instead of telling him not to touch them, that woman is chatting with the librarian. Wait, she’s finally taking action. Maybe she’s going to yank the marker out of his hand.

She takes a photograph.

Cyn K The Mighty.1-001

From one table to the next, Philip refuses to complete the activities at this event as designed. That lady doesn’t correct him once. He takes stickers from one table to embellish his “not a flower.” He borrows the bright markers from another to decorate it even more. She does nothing to stop him.

I would have pushed Philip to stand on the right side of the table like all the other kids were doing. I would have fixed his projects, taking over so they more closely resembled the samples. I would have apologized for Philip’s errors.

I would have compared Philip to the other children and noticed how different he was. I would have been too self-consciousness to stay. “We’ve been here long enough,” I would have said in a falsely cheerful voice. My discomfort would have pushed me to skip the rest of the displays and leave.

I am the mother Philip was born to, but I no longer exist. I am the mother who worried about sideways glances and whispered comments from others about her son with autism. But I was slowly replaced by that woman sitting on the floor (on the floor!) as Philip eats frosting off a cupcake. She’s not thinking about what others think. She knows her son is just right as he is.

Philip doesn’t have the same mother. But now his mother is happier, and she hopes Philip is, too.

Follow this journey on That Cynking Feeling.

Originally published: July 15, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home