I slowly turned around and calmly tapped this mother on the shoulder. I said politely (but certainly loud enough for all to hear), “Excuse me, but the “KID” you are talking about is not dangerous. He likes order and doesn’t do well with change. That is why he wanted to sit in that seat. The “KID” is not unstable. He is sensitive and gets overwhelmed easily. That is why he started crying. The “KID” has Asperger’s Syndrome—High Functioning Autism. I know this because I am his mother.”
I stood there a moment, breathless, and watched as this mother and the other parents in the room transformed. Suddenly I was surrounded by a room filled with pity. This was not the reaction I was going for. Angry, sad and now completely embarrassed, I gathered my things and, with as much dignity as I could, walked out the door and back into my life…my wonderful life that is rich with laughter, filled to the brim with love and has a good dose of autism thrown in there just to keep things interesting.
Yes, my life is interesting. You see, I am the mom of the child who has thrown himself on the ground at Harris Teeter in a fit of anger because I put a generic Lemon Lime Soda in the cart instead of Sprite, the real thing.
I am the mom of the quirky, big, 11-year-old at the playground who is more comfortable chasing after your little five-year-old then playing football with the kids his own age. You watch him flap his arms, and laugh loudly as he races after your son. Perhaps you think that he is odd, or maybe you worry about your own baby and call him over to get him away from this strange pre-teen. Aren’t you surprised when my boy follows your son over thinking this is part of the game?
And I am the mom who you silently—and occasionally not so silently—tsk-tsk at and question my mothering skills. “She needs to discipline that boy. That child is out of control.” I don’t blame you for thinking this. You see, autism is not called the invisible disability for nothing.
I am also the mom of this boy who has an endless amount of love, who gets straight As, reads literature that is six grades above his own age level, who has more compassion in his little pinky finger than most grownups have in their entire body and who could probably write funnier jokes for the Tonight Show than their writers could. Oh yeah…and he just so happens to have Aspergers.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder. My son’s brain functions on a high level and is wired differently. His senses work, but the information they send to his brain can get misfiled or come in on the wrong pathways. Sometimes, the info from all his senses hits his brain all at once like a million radio stations playing at the same time, and he doesn't know how to filter out the unnecessary and pay attention to what's important. Imagine how loud or over–stimulating that would be. It would make me want to melt down in a grocery store, too.
I am telling you this—not so you will feel sorry for my son, but to the contrary—for if you pity him, you also pity all the great people like him. Thomas Edison, Sir Isaac Newton and Mark Twain all have been said to have had Autistic Asperger traits. People with Aspergers don’t need your pity; they need your acceptance, compassion and your tolerance. They need to be appreciated and respected for the unique individuals they are. They just may need a little extra help when their radio stations get crossed.
I also write this to remind you that, first and foremost, my boy is just that, a boy! He’s a regular “kid” who likes to eat pizza or vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. He is a kid who wants to be invited to Laser Tag birthday parties or be asked to come over and play video games. He is a person who can hear an ugly comment, hear the tsk-tsks and see a disapproving look.
Being friends with a child on this spectrum can sometimes be challenging; but it can also be very rewarding. Beyond his quirky behavior lives a child who is more than willing to share his radio stations with your son or daughter and show them how dancing to a different beat can be a good thing. If given a chance, your child may end up becoming friends with someone who could use their different way of thinking in the future to discover a new alternative energy source, solve the world's hunger problem, compose a masterpiece or—at the very least—help them with their trig or physics homework in high school.