I wrote this about a year ago. I didn’t post it here before because I thought it sounded more crabby than I intended. For autism awareness month I dusted it off, and posted it to the Mom list that inspired it.
My four year old daughter has autism. Maybe you know us. Even if you never meet us, considering the number of people with autism is currently 1 in 110, you will meet people with autism in your lifetime.
A while ago someone on a Mom list was concerned their child had autism. I was kind of shocked by some of the responses. Autism is all the rage now. Really? Do you think it is trendy and fun to have a child who does not speak? Is it cool to know my child may never live independently? Do you think all the children who are being diagnosed are undeserving of the services to help them?
Someone else said Your child doesn’t have autism – he’s great! I get that you probably do think a child with autism is quite awful. But I feel the need to tell you that I think my child is great. Better than great actually, but I’ll spare you my gushing.
My daughter is a person, she has likes and dislikes and she also has real challenges with communication. Sometimes she is overwhelmed by sounds and sights around her. I do my best to keep her away from stressful situations, but I do feel like it is important for her to be able to go out into the community. If she screams or has a meltdown I will leave with her. But every once in a while I really need to buy milk or something that can’t wait . Yes I know she is loud. Please have a little patience.
You may tell me that only babies have tantrums like my daughter, and if I would just discipline her she would behave. I don’t expect you to understand that she has had years of behavior therapy. But I hope that you can understand that part of having autism is immature development. In many ways, she is like a baby or a toddler in terms of her ability to communicate.
Please don’t get in my daughter’s face while she is in the stroller and tell her she is too big and too old to be in a stroller. Not that it matters, but she’s not seven like you think. I’m sorry your world-view is so narrow that the sight of a large child in a stroller offends you. But it is not my problem, please deal with it on your own time.
I’m going to take my daughter to the playground, and she is not going to act like your children. When my daughter sees your son playing with a bouncy ball, she wants to play with the ball and with him, but she doesn’t know how to ask. She will take the ball from him as her way of asking. I’ll be right there with her, and I’ll tell her the ball is not hers, and I’ll make her throw or roll the ball back to your son. I’ll admit it must look strange to you, that my child can’t do something so simple as say play with me, and that I have to be so involved with her. In my fantasies (which occasionally come true) your son would play with my daughter. Just pass the ball back and forth a few times. It is a public playground after all. It is your son’s choice, and if he doesn’t want to play with my daughter, that is fine. But please don’t give us dirty looks, drag him and your other children away, and tell them they have to stay on the opposite side of the playground from us. You are teaching your child that it is okay to be rude to people who are different and also that they should be ignored.
My daughter enjoys watching your daughter and her friends climbing on the equipment and hanging upside down. She also likes it when your son brings his remote control helicopter to the playground to fly. I know she looks a little strange, her body quivers with excitement and sometimes she’ll jump up and down clapping and and saying yay. The kids don’t mind the attention, and I keep her safely out of harms way. Please just let her watch.
I’m not looking for pity or sympathy. But I do hope for a little patience and understanding. You will meet people with autism, they will be your child’s classmates and your neighbors. Autism is not contagious, in fact studies are showing that typically developing children actually benefit from exposure to children with special needs. I’ve seen this first hand. It’s never to early to teach tolerance, and that is a gift that will continue to give through a person’s life.