‘I am an autism mom. When people hear that, they often think I have a child who has autism.’

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“I am an autism mom. When people hear that, they often think I have a child who has autism. While that is true, I am also autistic myself. My 4-year-old son is autistic, and my 1-year old son is not.

I face a lot of challenges in my day to day life. I am a stay at home mother, and whenever we go out into public, my son always gets strange looks. He’s only about a head and a half shorter than me and is often mistaken for an older child. When I put him in the shopping cart, or I have to hold his hand when walking in anywhere, we get strange looks. Many people go out of their way to ask why, or ‘what am I doing?’ Many people stare and point. Even laugh. My son isn’t one of those who throws tantrums in public–he squeals and laughs loudly and makes very happy sounds and is generally happy to see people. But a lot of people don’t share his enthusiasm. The playground is a nightmare. Often times, other kids will attempt to play with my very normal-looking son, and we get a variety of responses when he doesn’t play with them the same way. Sometimes, they will try to teach him how to play. Sometimes, they will get bored and move on. But one of the most common responses we receive is other parents asking me what is wrong with my son, and as soon as the words ‘he’s autistic’ leaves my mouth, they go, ‘oh,’ and call their children to move on elsewhere. What they don’t see is my sweet, precious son’s little shoulders slump, and his eyes dim from the bright stars they normally are to the dimness of a child whose feelings have been hurt.

When I was growing up, my mother had me diagnosed. But it was different back then, as I am almost 30 now, and back then, there was a lot less information on this disorder. I was nonverbal until I was 5 years old and had many other challenges and dysfunctions. My mother didn’t tell my family about my diagnosis or get help. She just left it alone, but she was a single parent. She didn’t know what autism was. She worked multiple jobs. And I was teased and ignored and neglected by my peers, school teachers and even sometimes family often. I know what it is to have your feelings hurt.

When you hurt an autistic child’s feelings–it stays with them forever.

And to see my son distance himself from other children in fear of this reaction is heart-wrenching. He almost never gets to see other children anymore, because when I take him to the park, he insists on playing alone and I don’t have adult friends with other children his age.

He is nonverbal. Not potty trained. Can’t follow comprehensive instructions because he isn’t that understanding. But one thing he does understand is people’s attitudes toward him. And it shows.

My son holds doors for people. He has helped me get groceries inside, helped me change the laundry over, helped me wash dishes, helped to sweep and loves to watch me cook. He’s so intelligent. He loves music and tries to sing.

But when he makes one of his happy shrieking sounds in the grocery store and other people laugh or tell him that he needs to be quiet–it makes my heart break because he is obviously hurt by their reaction. Can my son not be happy? Can he not be loved and appreciated for the happy, helpful, loving boy that he is? He’s a 4-year-old.

Sometimes I’m terrified for his future. You’re constantly seeing viral videos of special needs kids being man-handled, cuffed, drug, hit, abused, locked in closets, tied to chairs… what does that mean for my son? Is this the future he has to look forward to? All because he is slower than others? Because he’s not as ‘smart’ as them? Because he’s not able to follow directions the same way that ‘typical children’ are?

I wish people could love him for what matters. I wish people could love him for how sweet and helpful he is.

I have gone from hoping for a bright, happy future for him, a good and important job and him being high functioning… to just hoping for a good quality of a loving life for him. This switch has flipped in my mind, and as I try to spread awareness, I tell people that, ‘Hey, I have autism too, it’s not a disease, it hasn’t handicapped me, I’m high functioning. I’m different, not less!’ People still treat my son as if he’s not worth what other children are worth. We work every day on furthering the things he can do… and I don’t want to have to keep him in a bubble all his life. But it would be nice if people, adults and children alike, could be less judgmental, less harsh, and realize we are people too. We have different needs than they do, but we are human as well. Our hearts beat the same way. We are just a little different. And I try to spread love and acceptance wherever I go, whoever I talk to, so that maybe, one day, my son can face a bright future full of love and support and not feel ashamed of himself because of something he can’t control. It would be nice to be able to take him to a store, and rather than people being hateful to him for him being happy, people smile and tell him that they are happy that he’s happy, and that his smile put a smile on their face.

Kindness breeds kindness. Love breeds love. And I just want kindness for my sons. I don’t want for my younger son to grow up in a world where he has to watch his older brother be mistreated because of autism and think that this is just our world. I want to make this world bright. Because it wasn’t bright for me.”

Courtesy Kristen Ashburn

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristen Ashburn. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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