“STOP FOLLOWING US, BABY! Why doesn’t he talk? He’s a BIG BABY! AHHH!!! Run!!”
I watched as the two older boys screamed these words into my son’s face at the otherwise-empty playground. They couldn’t understand why a kid my son’s size wouldn’t talk or pick up the clue that they didn’t want him around, even after it was screamed into his face.
My sweet boy had recently been diagnosed with autism. He had limited verbal skills and a spirit so big and bright. He laughed as the words were screamed in his face and continued to chase the boys who wanted nothing to do with him.
The boys’ mothers were deep in conversation at a table across the park. Once or twice, they called over something along the lines of “are you being nice?” and got right back to their conversation.
I can still feel the tightness in my throat as I fought with all my being to not cry. The tears poured down from behind my sunglasses. I stood there alone, praying for the mothers to notice my special boy and intervene in some way. Occasionally, I choked up a few words to try and redirect my little man to another part of the playground.
I had no words that day. I was fragile, still processing this new world of autism and what life ahead was going to look like for my boy. And that afternoon just broke me.
This was the beginning.
Luckily, my son did not feel the pain of exclusion that day. I know it will not be that way forever. He understands so much more than he can say, and he feels so deeply.
Now, I would know what to say, and I wouldn’t wait on strangers to say the right thing for me. But it sure would have helped this mother’s fragile heart if those boys had learned a little about differences, kindness, and inclusion.
April is World Autism Awareness Month. When we advocate for autism awareness, really, what we want is kindness + inclusion. That is what really matters.
Learning about and celebrating our differences and those of others can change everything.