I want to tell you something I’ve learned. If you read my blog regularly you know that I talk mostly about my experiences raising an autistic child and how they make ME feel. I feel like I rarely ever give advice because I spend 95% of the time in survival mode. And autism is the biggest mystery in the world to me. But I try to help when I can.
So I am pretty excited to say that I had an epiphany this weekend. I guess you could call it self growth.
I am now okay with having the only autistic child at the party. Maybe you are shaking your head at that sentence. Maybe you think I am an awful person. And that’s fine. But there were so many times when I couldn’t bring Cooper somewhere. I couldn’t be the mom with the different child. Mostly out of sadness but yes, a little bit out of embarrassment too. The screeching and flapping and meltdowns would wear me right down.
I began to morph into this bitter, ugly person who resented the normal children. It was bad. And I eventually stopped going anywhere with Cooper. And holy shit would Jamie and I fight about it. I remember one specific time when he told me that I couldn’t hide Cooper away like a monster. I remember screaming, “Cooper isn’t the monster…everyone else is.”
If I could use my body to shield every stare I would. I would physically destroy someone if they hurt Cooper. But the funny part is that Cooper would have no idea if anyone teased him. And I feel it double.
I brought Cooper to a birthday party once and as all the kids gathered around to open presents my child roamed the room pulling pillows and cushions off the couches. I cried for days and days. I vowed to never bring him anywhere again.
Another time I brought him to a party and he spent his time eating snow off of people’s boots. He sat right down at a friends feet and started eating. I was mortified. He also went through a phase where he sucked on his shirts. Not just a sleeve. The WHOLE front of the shirt. He’d lift it right up and eat it until it was in a ball and drenched.
Or he’d run and push and throw. It doesn’t matter what the ACTUAL behavior was. What mattered is that the behaviors were so different than the other kids. Odd really.
So I isolated us. And I said it was because Cooper was to hard to handle in public places. But I was also embarrassed of Cooper and my parenting fails.
For a long time I used to think I wasn’t strong enough. But that’s not it at all. It just hurt too much.
As we walked around the mall this weekend Cooper saw the indoor play gym and just like the merry-go-round incident he was hooked. He wanted to play so badly. And I said something that I didn’t even know I was thinking. I said to Jamie,
“Are you okay with having the one and only autistic kid at the party?”
I really was okay with it.
Cooper ran and jumped and crawled. He felt every piece of carpet. He rolled. He cased the room. And per the usual he didn’t notice the dozens of kids or people surrounding him. He noticed the lights and the textures. And mostly he watched me. That kid never lets me out of his sight, I sat down on the bench and let him climb all over me. I am his jungle gym. He played with my hair and begged to be tickled. And I tickled him until he squealed. People stared. All nice stares I guess. And I just smiled.
Cooper flapped. And he screeched. And I was just thankful that we were there.
You have to be okay with having the special needs kid at the party. You have to be okay with watching all the other children play and interact and your child is feeling the carpet. And you really have to be okay with people staring. And looking. You just do.
Being embarrassed or crushed or whatever is okay.
But it will come. I promise.
You will be crushed the first time you notice people staring at your baby. And you will be crushed the first time you noticing kids teasing him. The hurt is inevitable and it’s not going to go away. But don’t hide. Autism is already lonely enough.