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Why I’m Thankful I Saw Another Autism Mom in the Parking Lot

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The day after the Blizzard of 2015 brought 29 inches of snow, Andrew and I ventured out for a rare mom and son lunch date. He was content, in his unique way, making happy noises and eating with some quiet prompts from me: “Put your napkin on your lap,” “You have to put the fork in the meatball while you are cutting it with the knife,” and “Is your chair pushed in all the way?”

My son has autism. For the most part, the people in his world are kind to him. As we walked out into the parking lot, another boy walked towards us. He appeared to be about Andrew’s age and was also with his mom. He was autistic, skipping and vocalizing like Andrew and he was very happy. An autism mom can spot a fellow autism/special needs mom a mile way; she and I passed each other with friendly hellos, a nod of understanding and knowing smiles.

She’s one of my people. She’s someone in this world who I feel comfortable with even though I don’t really know her.

The acceptance of autism in our community is not as enlightened as I would have hoped it would be in 2015 when Andrew was diagnosed in 2001. For the many kind folks who accept Andrew and don’t really think twice about his stereotypical behaviors at Market Basket or while walking into the mall, there are those who stare and make fun of him. Recently, a local teen and her friend called him the R-word and pronounced him “funny to watch because he’s so stupid.”

I may often sound confident, and even look it, but it’s been a lonely road. Being a single parent with a child very affected by autism is rarely easy, but it has wonderful moments of joy, too. Mostly, it’s a winding path.

Andrew is learning and growing because people around him care about his success. He has started bowling one afternoon a week. He’s gone to a Celtics game and out to dinner, all with the recreation arm of his school programming.

For the first time in many years, he really wants to have friends, yet he’s still learning how that process works, how to be appropriate with other kids, how to take another’s perspective, and, most painfully, that most teenagers aren’t enamored with Build-A-Bears and Snoopy.

The old adage, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you met one person with autism,” rings clearer than ever. Seeing Andrew with his classmates at lunch in the school cafeteria, as I was secretly thrilled to have to opportunity to do, painted a new canvas of the life of my boy. He has finally has found “his people.” These kids sat together, talked a bit, yet were all more interested in their food than chatting about the weather or Patriots. School “lunch bunches” be damned, the boys focused on eating, making a few comments here and there. They were also happy.

Andrew now has peers who he connects with in small ways. He’s working on making more meaningful connections as he learns how to. These teenagers are part of his community. They might even be his friends.

The mom in the parking lot is part of my community. Parents who have walked the path for years, who are confident in their child and their parenting of him to bring him out to lunch, a place where in reality people might stare. We moms don’t care. We want our children to experience the world and for the world to accept our children.

Community. It’s something Andrew has become a part of. As an added bonus, it’s something his mom found, too, even though she wasn’t even looking for it. More importantly, even though she didn’t know she needed it. This mom is so proud of her boy — and thankful for the mom in the parking lot.

Laurel Collins the mighty.1-001

Originally published: August 17, 2015
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