On Staring

This was written as a cathartic exercise last year. Toby has made major improvements and no longer has these behaviors on a regular basis. I wrote this to get some of the weight off my shoulders, and I thought I’d share it now.

Dear Stranger,

I know my child is screaming. I know he’s kicking, hitting, scratching, biting me and practically ripping my shirt. I know it looks strange, that I keep pushing my cart, despite the noise and the little boy pushing my cart from the other end, trying to prevent me from finishing my shopping trip.

To the stranger who is judging me or my child: I don’t care.

You most likely don’t know that he doesn’t need more discipline. Or a good spanking. Or that he isn’t stupid, or a bad kid.

Autism doesn’t usually cross your mind, I think.

So how could you know that what he needs are not punishments, but skills? That he needs to know how to go the grocery store and, (despite the sensory assault of smells, lights, voices and all sorts of unfamiliar things), get the job done?

Here’s the thing: I don’t know your story, and you don’t know mine.

I just wish I could tell everyone who watched my child acting this way, that even though the little boy you see is drifting into uncontrollable confusion and anger, he is still the sweetest, smartest, most loving and special boy in the world. He is my world.

I like to think that if I could personally take each person who stares aside and explain to them the whole story, starting at the first sign something was wrong with my darling, chubby-cheeked little boy, and going until we get to our commitment of helping him fulfill his absolute maximum potential, the unflinching glare would surely melt away and the judgement would flee and we would part ways with an understanding that the scene he is making is a necessary part of that goal.

That may not be true, yet I have to believe it is.

And to the stranger who lovingly looks at me and sends me a smile of encouragement: Thank you. I can’t tell you how much your positive energy boosts me.

And to the kind, well-meaning stranger who asks him “What’s wrong?”: Thank you. No, you’re not really helping. Yes, you might set him off even more. And you might even force me to make you feel uncomfortable by telling you about his disability. But thanks for caring that something is wrong.

Thanks for noticing he’s having a tough day, and that yes, I am too.

Sincerely, (truly)

A mother of a child with autism

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