by Cari Ansbro
“Don’t you ever hide that boy,” she said to me. “No matter how many people give you dirty looks or complain, you take him with you everywhere. You hear me? This is his world, too. And don’t ever forget it.”
I stood in awed silence, absorbing her words and committing them to memory. Words no one had ever said to me. She smiled at me, seemed to understand, and patted my arm. Who was this woman, and why weren’t there more of her?
As it turned out, she was the grandmother of a young man with autism. She’d raised her grandson when it was just too much for his mother. And she’d done it at a time when autism was much less known than it is today. Strength and pride were practically written on her face. And here she was, reaching out to me. Blessing a stranger with unsolicited, but loving, advice.
Admittedly, my encounters with the advice of strangers had tended toward the negative. Very negative, if I’m honest. As the parent of two boys on the autism spectrum, I’m pretty used to the down side of going out in public. There are the open stares, the meltdowns, inappropriate behavior… And then there are the things my kids do.
Seriously, though, it can be a test of strength just to go to the store. Even when my boys are on their very good behavior, we still get the occasional slack-jawed stare, ignorant and hateful comment, or people going out of their way to avoid contact with us. You know, just in case autism is contagious. It can make you feel like hiding away in your safe little world and never coming out.
But that isn’t the answer. Don't get me wrong. I understand the impulse. Especially at times like this, when the world seems particularly hostile to anyone who’s different. It can be hard to believe that people still are basically good. And there are times when staying home might be your best option. But as a way of life, it pretty much sucks. It’s not sustainable or healthy.
And if you can get to where you can ignore the obnoxious people who aren’t ready to accept your special someone as part of this world, you may be surprised by some of the other people you meet. Like the lady in the shampoo aisle who made a beeline to us so that she could meet C.J. and tell me about her favorite aunt who had autism. Or the friendly security officer who’s always so nice to us, and whose young son also has autism. Or the cashier who rushes over to say, “Hi!” to the boys because they remind her of her beloved brother. These are by no means the only examples. More like a couple of snapshots. But hopefully, you get the picture.
We’d never have met any of these people if we let ignorance, fear, and prejudice dictate how we live. And my family would have missed out on the affirmation that there are people out there waiting to meet them. How sad that would be for us all.
So, in honor of that lovely woman, who many years ago gave me the best advice I’ve ever received, I now pass it on. Please, follow her advice. Don’t hide. Be brave. Show your loved one what a wonderful world it can be. After all, it’s their world, too.
The Autism Website
Cari writes about parenthood and her family's adventures and struggles on their journey through life with autism. Along the way, she looks for joy and meaning in this vast and varied world. It isn't perfect, but perfect is boring and then there'd be nothing to write about.