I have been thinking about something for 3 days now. I would like to preface this with, I am not saying this to congratulate myself. I just think it is sort of strange. Strange in a wonderful and positive way. Strange in a way that makes me feel good, so I want to tell other people. Strange in a way that makes me want to tell others so that they know there are good people out there.
I will also say that we live in a wonderful community. A community that cares about people. A fairly bleeding heart community, yes. We are right across the street from a major university and with that brings a certain "kind" of person. But here I am going to use kind in the descriptive way, of just being kind. I talk to many families who have children with disabilities. Sometimes I don't even know them and they call me looking for help and advice. I always listen. I try to help the best I can. I'm sort of a bleeding heart myself and I want to help everyone. I feel I've gathered a lot of knowledge of autism and of working "the system". I have been very successful with our school system and feel we have a great working relationship. I'm nice, yet firm and I really don't take any shit. But in a very perky and upbeat way! (Most of the time) Daniel has thrived. He is doing well. I want more. But I am happy with his progress.
What I often find talking to these other families is that everyone has stories about strangers. Strangers who have yelled at them to control their children. Strangers who tell them they are "doing it wrong". Really awful situations that break my heart. I think one of the challenging things about a child with autism is that they, to the untrained eye, look "normal", whatever that means, but they don't act that way. They have meltdowns. They are way behind developmentally and therefore don't live up to people's expectations. Then for some crazy ass reason, strangers feel compelled to tell you what they think you are doing wrong. I know I know. This is not something that happens only to families with autism. But I'm saying, it seems to happen more often and with a lot more, ahem, gusto from the people giving the advice. I hear it all the time.
Now you are probably thinking I'm going to tell a story about some crazy person who confronted me. Well I'm not. I'm here to say that THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME. Never. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure people think things on occasion. But no one has ever said anything but positive things to me. I don't know if they are unsure what my reaction would be? If they somehow sense I'd give them a piece of my mind right back (in a perky upbeat way of course) or what it is. The reason I bring this up is it happened again on Sunday. I was bringing Daniel to his usual Sunday swim at our local community center. Our Sunday swim is his reward for doing a good job during the previous week at school. In over 3 years he has missed twice. Twice that he acted in an aggressive manner and lost his privilege. Amazing. So we are checking in on Sunday. I always bring a book and sit in the bleachers and read. The man at the desk asked me what I was reading. He does this whenever he sees I've moved on to a different book. Our time at the counter was longer because I was due to buy a different pass. I told him I'm reading "Ray". It's about an autistic savant, who is blind, and a musical genius. My friend is the president of a publishing company and sent it to me. (It's wonderful by the way). The man at the counter commented on the book. I told Daniel he could head to the locker room to change. When Daniel left I said, "You know, Daniel is autistic too." He said, "really? I wouldn't have known that. He does really well. It's because he has such great parents." I mean what a totally unnecessary and kind thing to say! This guy sees either my husband or myself bring in Daniel every week to swim and has been observing us for a long time now. What a way to make someones day.
A few months ago I was walking home after walking Daniel to school. A neighbor drove by and stopped her car and yelled out the window, "you are a wonderful mother." Again. There was no reason for that. Kindness. I honestly have many stories like this. But the one that sticks out to me the most was when Daniel was, I'd say 5. That puts Zachary at 2. We were in the post office. I don't remember the circumstances, but I knew Daniel was wearing thin. I abandoned ship and started to hustle them both out. Daniel lost it before we got to the door and I was DRAGGING him out of there. He made his legs go to spaghetti and wouldn't walk. At 5 he was BIG and I was dragging him to the car and trying to avoid kicks, punches and head butts while he is screaming at the TOP of his lungs. I was sweating and struggling, while trying to keep my 2 year old close to me and not running into the parking lot! I was on the verge of tears, seeing that van across the lot and trying to get him there. Everyone is staring. At this point I'm just trying to get out. A man was walking into the post office and looked at me. We made eye contact and I thought, here it comes. You know what he said? He said, "you are doing a great job, hang in there." and just kept walking. I was dumbfounded. And I will never EVER forget it. Those words gave me the strength to get across the lot and get everyone strapped into their seats. (while still avoiding punches and head butts and kicks) I think about those words on hard days. A stranger. A kind stranger, who impacted my life by saying one sentence to me. Who locked eyes with me in a way that told me it would be o.k. He did it not for himself, but for me, because he knew I needed it at that moment.
I try to pass on the kindness when I see people in stores with their 3 year old screaming. To people when they call me, a stranger, out of nowhere. Next time you see someone having a "moment". Don't judge them. Encourage them. You just might be that person they never forget. 'Tis the season for love, joy and kindness. Let's spread it throughout the year.
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