In our home, autism is part of every day, every minute, and every interaction between our daughter and the world. Until her diagnosis early last year, autism was just another cause, just another ribbon, just another annual fundraiser and 5K. It got lost in the crowd of the countless GoFundMe pleas that I constantly scrolled past in my social media newsfeeds. Understanding autism was never something I sought out.
But this year, my child is a face of this condition. My family is navigating therapies and insurance and IEPs and scholarships and wondering how to pay for it all.
This year, I’m the mom explaining my child’s nontypical communication and mannerisms to the judgmental 60-something woman behind us in the grocery store line. I’m the mom apologizing to the finance manager at the car lot because she just wants to touch the colorful, textured rug and shiny brass desk decor. I apologize again when she throws her arms around him in an unexpected, awkward, but adorable, hug. I give that fake, closed-mouth smile, but have to walk away when his response is, “Well, you certainly have your hands full with that one.”
Understanding autism is never something I expect from strangers.
I’m the mom wondering just how many pretzels she can safely eat because we’re bordering on needing to buy stock in Rold Gold. I’m the mom who lost her mind last week when she took my hand and actually said, “Come on, let’s go inside.” She actually said it. A complete, appropriately-used sentence – a victory that so many people would overlook.
I’ve been reading and researching and watching documentaries and talking to other parents, and I still feel like I know absolutely nothing. I know nothing, but somehow, I could talk about it for hours with anyone willing to listen and eager to learn. People always want to know what they can do to help, but help isn’t what we really need from you. We need awareness – but not the kind you might think.
I’m asking for awareness put into action.
I’m asking for your understanding when you see a parent struggling with a child having a meltdown you don’t understand. Don’t – and I mean please don’t – turn to your children, right in front of me, and say, “You act like that, you’ll get whooped.” I’m asking for you to be patient in the checkout line when the mom in front of you is having a hard time explaining something in a way her child can understand. I’m asking for you to think twice about your judgment when you have to wait to change your infant because a parent is using the changing table for a child you think is “way too old to still be in diapers”. I’m asking for you to respond with grace when you ask a child their name or how old they are, and they can’t or don’t respond the way you think they should. And for the love of God, I’m asking for you to teach your children to do the same.
Maybe understanding autism doesn’t have to be your end goal. Maybe it can just be kindness. Kindness is taught, and the world certainly could use a few truckloads of kindness these days.