You don’t know me, but I know you.
I see your son out walking your dog almost every day. When I first saw him timidly walking down the street several years ago, I didn’t think much of it. Just another kid in the neighborhood completing a chore.
My children love to say hi to the fluffy white dog that serves as your son’s walking companion and with each interaction, I began to recognize things I recognized in my own daughter. The predictability of his route. His hesitance at a social interaction that bordered on avoidance if we passed him. The sense that we were throwing a wrench in the cogs by coming down the sidewalk opposite him. The conversations he happily had with himself. His quick, bouncy toe strike as we walked past.
I’m going to draw the conclusion that your son has autism. Now this is just pure conjecture, and if I’m off base, please forgive me. I think I missed that part of Autism Parent Orientation when they went over proper protocol for identifying each other out in the wild. But, if I’m right, from one autism mom to another, I want you to know that I see your son and I’m helping watch over him.
Every time I see him walk by, a wave of emotion floods over me so quick and forceful I don’t know what to do with it or how to identify it. I’ve gotten accustomed to that because there is so much emotion to this special needs mom thing, but one day it hit me.
He is the embodiment of all of the hard work we are doing with our toddler with autism. He is what we are working toward. The emotion that hits me is the empathy of your struggle, past and present, and the joys of your successes every time I see him walking through our neighborhood. Your family is my family a few years into the future.
We’re still pretty new to this whole autism thing and the future is still very unknown and scary. I have a lot of fears of what my daughter’s reality will be as she grows up because it won’t be as clear cut and typical as I always imagined for her. But when your son walks by, independently, he gives me hope.
To me, your family is like a crystal ball showing me what mine can be in a few years. He gives me hope that my daughter will one day be able to have enough awareness, problem solving skills and independence to do something as ordinary as walk our dog without me hovering over. Hope that all this work we’re doing to help build her skills will pay off. Hope that I can trust in the process and I won’t have to obsessively oversee everything for the rest of my life and that I will eventually be able to loosen the reigns.
But mostly, it’s you who gives me hope. Even though we have never met, and may never meet (Because how could I ever initiate this conversation in real life?), I want to thank you. Thank you for your courage to let him explore and develop his independence all on his own. Thank you for trusting the community with your son. Thank you for letting your heart walk around all on it’s own, knowing that not everyone will understand your son or even be kind to him.
I draw so much strength from you, even though I’ve never met you, because I know how scary it is. I know you want to protect him from everything and everyone. But I know you can’t contrive every situation and at some point they need to test the skills they are building. I know you can’t live in a bubble and you have to take chances so that your child can keep growing and developing. Surely this can’t be easy for you, but it must be done and I thank you for setting a precedent that you probably never even intended to set. Thank you for being the invisible example I didn’t even know I needed.
I just want you to know that I see you and your family. We are in this with you; you are not alone. Thank you for smoothing some of the bumps in the road for the families that come after you. But most importantly, I just want you to know that there is another set of eyes out there keeping an eye on your sweet boy and that even though we may never meet, I’ve got your back.