“Hey. Yeah you. I see you. I see you stealing glances. Looking at us when you think I’m not looking. You don’t glance away fast enough before I catch you.
Why are you staring?”
This is what runs through my mind when we are in public and I see someone watching us. I feel judged. Isolated. Alone. Mocked. But mostly judged. It’s not a nice feeling.
I am a mom to a 13-year-old autistic daughter. I’ll call her “D”. Although you’re probably not judging us, that is exactly what it feels like. I try to tell myself to hold my head up, but I tend to refocus on her and ignore you.
My child is not like yours and I am reminded of that every day. The countless play dates we aren’t invited to. So many birthday parties, movies, and just about everything else. We are just forgotten. Left to celebrate within our own little family because no one comes to her birthday parties either. Each time, it’s another stab in the heart that we have to hide from D.
She may not understand any of this, but I do. So, what can you, as a neurotypical parent do? Don’t ignore us. Don’t isolate us. Bring us in. Offer a nice word or better yet, speak to her. Get down on her level and ask her how she is. Don’t be afraid of us. Autism is not contagious. What is contagious is her love. If you let her in you will see a whole new level of love. And that’s what it will be. She will love you unconditionally: faults and all, because she doesn’t know how to judge. It is the purest kind of love there is.
So as you stare, notice the stims. These are the repetitive movements and things she does. Flapping, holding her breath, intense focus and completely ignoring everything around her. Yes, there are other things autistic people do but these are hers and that’s what I am sticking with. You may also see a meltdown. No, this is NOT a tantrum and please don’t compare the two in any way. That is a huge insult to the autism community. They are vastly different. How? Well a tantrum is when a typical child is fitting because they aren’t getting their way. A meltdown is when a special needs child doesn’t know how to cope with their surroundings. There’s too much noise and they’re overwhelmed. This is a big one for us. And so are crowds. There are many things our autistics are sensitive to. Clothes, food, people, noise, sights, and touch. So, when you see me down on here on the floor with her in my lap holding her ears, don’t stare. This is our way to get through it. It may take a minute, or it may take an hour, but this is where we will stay until she is ok. A kind and understanding smile can help. It says to us, you get it and it’s all ok.
These things don’t make her weird or strange, just different. And different is ok. So instead of staring, make it a teachable moment. Either for you or your child. Teach them using us. Let them know we aren’t unapproachable. There is nothing wrong with us, we are just different and that it is ok to talk to us and be our friend.
Andrea is a mother to 5 children aged 13 to 23 years old; her youngest being autistic and homeschooled. She was born and raised in Ohio but has lived in Arizona for the past 15 years. She's a certified private investigator and is certified in ABA therapy. She enjoys reading, doing various crafts, and spending time with her family.