"in The Closet" About Autism

The other day I was at a kid's birthday party.  I saw a boy across the table that appeared to be autistic.  He was about 5 and displaying sensory issues as well as avoiding eye contact and repeating rehearsed phrases.  I never like to make assumptions though.  

Later in the party, I approached the child's grandfather.  I wanted to know because I have a child of my own with autism that is about the same age and was not present with us.  I'd love to make a new friend for our oldest wee one.

I mentioned to the adult with the child that our oldest child was autistic and would soon be attending public school in the area.  I waited around to see the response and while the adult was polite, no mention was made of the child I'd observed so I left it alone.

This got me thinking.  Why am I so in the closet about this?  I never post publicly about our struggles.  I feel like these kids are blessings, even if they have struggles not everyone else does (hey what's the definition of "individual" again?) Well I realize that the sad truth is, there is a stigma about mental health.

While it isn't anyone's business what's going on with our children, why wouldn't I want to connect with others?  Why would it be so wrong for me to just ask?  Oh yeah!  Because there is something wrong with autism :(

I can't count how many times I've told people "He has autism" and they say "Oh, he seems great to me!"  ?  What does that *mean* exactly.  That there would be something not great about a clearly autistic child?

I get it, people are trying to be consoling?  Again, why?  He's an awesome boy!  Filled with energy and quirks that God created for me to mother and empower him through and in.  I don't want to change who he is ever.  I just want the world to quit thinking that there's something wrong with him how he is.  

My life isn't easy.  I'm exhausted and only sorta SuperMum.  I certainly can't keep up with the crowd of meanie moms who have decided which is the "right" way to do things- I used to be one and got left in the dust with a child who defied all social protocol.  Top that off with two other children less than a few years apart- I'm in over my head, no doubt.  So maybe people just want to say *something* to me?  

I don't know what the right words are.  I think the issue isn't the right words.  It's society's outlook in general on mental health.  And I really wish I didn't feel so helpless to defend him from it...
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1 Response May 22, 2012

No one else knows what it's like until they've walked a mile in your shoes, but even then, they don't always know what to say. My son is severly intellectually disabled and has some medical issues as well and the other day in the waiting room of the hospital, waiting for my son to go back into surgery, a mom with an older child who was clearly physically and intellectually disabled asked me "What's wrong with your son?". I would have bristled at a person with typical kids asking me what was wrong with my son, but this mother of a child who had special needs too was just asking and I knew she did not mean it in any negative way... what if maybe the people with the typical kids don't mean it that way either, but rather are just curious and open to learning about what they don't know, and just don't know the 'appropriate' way to ask? Try to give everyone, those who've walked in your shoes and those who haven't, the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don't know which words, phrases, or implied steroetypes might rub you the wrong way, but the fact that they are reaching out and trying to connect is wonderful. When you get right down to it, the people saying "He seems great to me!" are saying your kid seems great! If you try to just take it for what it is, a compliment, rather than disecting it, and just say "Thank you, he is!" then you may be able to continue the conversation and speak candidly about your experiences, educate them, and truly spread awareness.