I’ve never spoken to my neighbor with who I share an alley with except an occasional wave.
It took just a small interaction with my neighbor to completely leave me devastated.
This interaction shifted my focus on how adults view my child and my parenting skills from the outside looking in.
I already carry tremendous guilt about my son’s autism diagnosis.
It makes it even harder when fellow adults are looking at you with judgment due to his sensory meltdowns in public.
But now I know even without a meltdown occurring other adults will still judge and even make fun of my child for being developmentally different.
That’s the reality I am now faced with and it sucks.
Apparently, I not only have to worry about other children making fun of him, but I have to worry about adults too!
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A note to readers: This is a personal article based on my own experience. While you may not feel the same about the situation, I do not think it’s appropriate in any way for an adult to tease or make fun of a child for something they cannot do or say (autism or not).
Last week when my children were playing out in the yard, my oldest with autism stood at the end of the property next to the fence to watch out neighbor across the alley load car parts into the back of his truck.
My son loves anything to do with cars so he will stand there and watch. I continued to swing my 2-year-old on the swing set as you said hi to him and waved.
My four-year-old with autism did not respond to the neighbor, in which he then continued to try and engage my child with conversation by asking is what my son’s name was.
As I’m trying to get my youngest off the swing set to go get my four-year-old, my neighbor persists by saying:
“What’s your name?”
“What’s the matter don’t you know your name?”
Another adult helping my neighbor load his truck then asks (as I am walking toward the end of the property with my 2-year-old in tow), “What’s wrong with him?” (referring to my son).
My neighbor laughs and then says, “I guess something is wrong he doesn’t know his name!”
Now I had reached the end of the property to get my son and immediately asked him to come and jump in the trampoline.
My neighbor then says to me, “He doesn’t know his name!” (laughing).
I didn’t laugh back, I instead respond with a serious look and said, “He has autism.” The neighbor responding back with a shocked face and responded with an “I’m sorry.”
But I cut him off with a hand raised and told the neighbor, “It’s okay. He has nonverbal autism, so he doesn’t answer to questions you ask him.”
I then grab my son’s hand without saying another word and redirected him to jump on the trampoline.
A letter to my neighbor who made fun of my child with autism,
My child didn’t understand the context of the situation, but the damage was done nonetheless to me.
I didn’t tell you, it was “Ok” to make fun of my son or say it to forgive you… I simply DID NOT want to hear your apology.
Your apology did not mean anything to me! You cannot apologize for making fun of a child with disabilities.
I know my son does not wear a sign with his autism diagnosis, but sometimes I have to hope (and pray) that others will be sensitive and (hopefully) nonjudgmental. But you have proven me wrong!
I heard you ask my son what his name was 6 times before I got to the end of the property.
If my son did not respond to you the first or second time, what makes you think you will pry it out of him by asking six times?
Secondly, you are a stranger to my son. He doesn’t know you and therefore, does not need to tell you what his name is regardless of him having autism.
By telling me “He doesn’t know his name” you were implying that my son is either stupid or I’m a bad parent for not teaching him to tell strangers his name.
No rule says I need to teach my son how to state his name when a complete stranger asks for it (other than medical personnel, police, or firefighters). It’s not to be rude as a parent, it’s a safety measure to protect my child.
I am extremely protective of my children, especially my oldest who has severe autism. If I don’t speak up and advocate for my son, who will?
He can’t speak for himself (as you found out by laughing at him). He can’t respond to necessary questions most children answer to.
But, oh man, you should see the progress my son’s made in just a year!
My five-year-old with autism who you were laughing at because he didn’t respond to your question is the most loving and fastest learner I’ve ever met.
Yes, he is considered nonverbal because he cannot answer questions and respond socially like his neurotypical peers, but he can talk! In fact, he does know some five to seven-word sentences!
Here are other amazing accomplishments my son’s made in a year with the help of myself, his father, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and preschool:
-He now knows how to sit and swing on a swing set (without assistance other than pushing him)
-He’s learned different strategies to calm himself when he feels overwhelmed
-He loves to play air guitar, dance, and sing (I can’t understand the words, but it’s still amazing!)
-He loves ocean animals and learns everything he can about them especially whales
-He goes to preschool alongside neurotypical children
-He can now take off his own shoes, socks, pants, and pull-ups (and put his pull-up on by himself)
-He participates in group activities at school and eats school breakfast and lunch
-He will touch and even taste new foods (it’s taken me two years to get him to eat noodles due to sensory issues, but now he loves them!)
-He counts to ten and now even sings some of the alphabet (it’s not the greatest, but it’s there)
-He can identify some shapes and single letters from the alphabet and knows some body parts like his nose
-He says new words daily and responds back about 80% of the time
-He knows every line (and acts out scenes) to his favorite Disney movies like Toy Story, Cars, Ratatouille, and Monsters, Inc.
Raising children is hard by itself. Add an autism diagnosis and sensory issues in the mix and it gets even harder.
My child because of his autism doesn’t understand verbal and written communication well and does have trouble interacting socially.
But look at his list of improvements!
He attends preschool five days a week now full-time, and speech and occupational therapy once a week each.
There is a significant amount of time given to meeting his sensory needs and helping him develop, especially with his speech and articulation. My son still has a long way to go though!
I know you didn’t know that when you were teasing him and you can’t tell by always looking at a child to know that they have a disability, but please, I implore you to be kind! Be judgment-free, especially with children and their parents!
I know you are from a different generation where the autism diagnosis and sensory issues didn’t exist.
But times have changed and children, as well as adults now, are finally understanding their disorder and getting the necessary help they need.
Now, it’s time for the rest of society to not be so harsh with them!
People with autism are not stupid by any means… They just learn differently and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I hope you will think twice before you laugh at a child who does not respond to your hello or the questions you ask. Not every child you meet is the same.
While I always choose to advocate for my special needs child, it’s up to others to be kind and learn about common signs of autism so a person on the spectrum never has to feel belittled or different in any way!
The next time you ask a child his or her name, and they don’t answer… As a parent to a child with special needs, I would rather you assume my child has a disability or developmental delay than continue to ask my child the same question and then proceed to laugh about it!
I’m ok with that! It’s better than someone laughing at my child because he’s simply being himself… A child on the autism spectrum.
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