Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dealing with Autism in Public: An Open Letter to "That Mom"

A reprint of an article I published on the user-produced site Associated Content
"The other day that mom with the little boy who was making so much commotion in the fast food restaurant noticed you staring at her. He was a handful, wasn't he? His screaming was incessant and the way he was challenging his mother: unacceptable. It's understandable that you would never allow your own child to holler at you like that, or bounce between the booths. You found yourself wondering what would possess her to bring an unruly child like that out into public in the first place.

As your respectful children stood beside you in silence, you wondered when he would just be quiet. And you wondered what kind of mother she must be. If you only knew what that mom wonders.

She wonders what she can do to get him to stop screaming. Sometimes it lasts all day, and lately, it's been almost every day. Then, while you put your kids back in the car, she wonders if he'll keep his seat belt on for the entire ride. You will get them home and they'll head right upstairs to play together nicely. She wonders if he'll decide it's time to begin switching the lights on and off repeatedly, or throw to everything that's on the desk onto the floor.

When your kids fall down, you can ask them where it hurts and they can tell you. It hurts the other mom that all she can do is hold her little boy and wonder when he'll stop crying. Later, while you wonder what story you will read to your child tonight, the mom you know nothing about will once again cry herself to sleep in her husband's arms.

You wonder later why God would give any child to "that kind" of parent, yet she's thankful that God chose her. You judge the stranger based on that one incident, while she wonders why you didn't just ask if you could help. She probably wouldn't have taken it, but she would have appreciated the gesture.

Your four-year-old has mastered the art of conversation. She finds it triumphant that her son mumbles, "go school" and "want eat." You already wonder what your child's high school prom will be like. Meanwhile the other mom wonders when her four-year-old will potty train. You wonder who your little one will marry some day, while the mom with the rambunctious son worries that he may not graduate from high school. You plan to send your child to the best university, and the lady that you never met wonders if she'll have to care for hers as an adult.

While she's not jealous that your kids obey, talk and dream, she does wonder what it would be like to be able to call her son "normal." He is who he is. There's no altering that, and his mother wouldn't change him for the world. But feeling your eyes burn through her melts her soul. She does the best he can, and wonders why you judge them both. She doesn't ask for your sympathy, just your understanding.

Her family puts a lot of time and effort into helping him become the best somebody he can be. You don't see it, but that's all right, because his mom sees it every day. She sees the victories as well as the defeats. You cast your judgment based on the one day you saw the unruly child in public. No one faults you for that, because the other mom used to do the same thing, back before her son's diagnosis. All the mom asks of you today is compassion and consideration.

Tonight, when you tuck your kids into bed, be thankful for the children you have and for who they are. Understand that, while you are getting butterfly kisses from your little angel, there are parents wondering when theirs will be able to say the words, 'I love you.'"


Deanna Schraye said...

Very well said Jon. As a young adult with no children, (and, I'm sorry to say, a self-righteous attitude), I was often irritated with the parents who brought such kids into the restaurant where I worked as a waitress. I was one of those who wondered that very thing "why don't they just stay home and eat?" I even once said, out loud, "my kids will never act like that." Sometimes I wonder if that's why God blessed me with the challenges of life with Jimmy. Though there are frustrating times, I wouldn't trade this life for anything. I can't imagine life without Jimmy, and those rare times when I do get to hear "I love you" make the obstacles worth their weight in gold.
Thank you for speaking out on this important subject.

Jon G said...

That is exacly the reason I posted this. People --- the world around us, what have you --- just do not get it. If they could only know what this life is like...what even one day is like at the hands of this condition, they would --- ah, who am I kidding, they would change for a day or two, and we both know it. But you know what? All the more reason we need to soldier on!

Corrie Howe said...

I know that having a grandchild with autism and ADHD has changed my parent's perspective.

Jon G said...

If that were only true for all extended family members, how much better we would all be! Thanks for doing all you do!

Jillian said...

Thank you for posting this letter, when I have a bad day or a bad public experience with my son I usually come home in tears and sometimes just reading this and knowing there ARE other parents dealing with this, it makes me feel better. Especially today.

Jon G said...

Jillian, its been a while since anyone has seen or commented on this post. This is one I am especially proud of. I'm glad it gave you some measure of solace. PLease feel free to share it with others you know.