Dear well-meaning stranger,
The other day when I was standing behind you at the checkout line in the supermarket, and you noticed that my daughter was covering her ears, you said something to me that I’ve been thinking about ever since.
On that day, I quickly explained to you that my daughter was autistic and struggling with the noise in the busy supermarket. You responded by saying, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
That morning, my darling little girl had been pulled from errand to errand beside me. She was exhausted, over it, and trying desperately to hang in there so we could just go home. Shopping centres are probably up there as one of the most overstimulating environments for autistic people: the crowds, the noise, the rows of food and the harsh fluorescent lighting.
Since that morning, your words have been making their way around my head, so I wanted to take the time to clear something up.
There’s nothing to be sorry for
Having a child diagnosed with autism is not the end of the world, on any level. In fact, having a label for my child’s behaviour and challenges has been one of the most helpful and positive steps I have taken in terms of getting my daughter the support she needs in life. It is not merely a label to access support, but also one that helps her understand herself and the reason behind the way she responds to the world she lives in. There’s absolutely nothing for you to feel sorry for or about – because I can tell you, we definitely aren’t sad or grieving.
My daughter is the same person she has always been
My daughter was diagnosed with autism a little bit before her third birthday, and nothing changed overnight. She was still the same bubbly, warm, cuddly and delightful child she always was. Being diagnosed with autism didn’t mean we lost anything – in fact, on the contrary, it helped us gain insight and understanding.
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Autism isn’t a disease
Please understand that autism isn’t a disease or a deficit; it’s just a different way of thinking, feeling and communicating. Autism is a developmental condition that spans a spectrum and affects the way individuals relate, communicate, process and interact with their environment. It is not a degenerative condition, nor is it a disease, a deficit or any other kind of negative life sentence. When I describe autism to others, I basically state that it is a different way for my daughter to see and experience her world. At the end of the day, who says different is wrong?
There are many wonderful sides to autism
Any parent of a child who is on the spectrum will be able to agree with me when I state that autism comes bearing many unexpected gifts. Having a child who is autistic encourages parents to continually see things from new angles, and have their expectations and perceived ideas blown apart and then reassembled in a completely different, fabulous way. If my daughter wasn’t autistic, she wouldn’t be who she is. She wouldn’t notice the things she does; she wouldn’t have the same level of insight, and she wouldn’t be the all kinds of amazing that she is.
Autism isn’t like a hat you can take on and off – it affects every single aspect of life. And I happen to love my daughter because of that, not in spite of it. Having an autistic child comes with its own set of challenges, but that doesn’t make her any less fabulous – it simply means that as her parent, it’s my job to support her, be a constant companion and advocate and encourage her to live her life to the best of her abilities.
So dear stranger, I hope the next time you hear about a child who has autism – instead of offering pity or your condolences, offer your support and compassion. Because at the end of the day, we are all in this life together, doing the best we can with the cards we are dealt.
It just so happens that the card my daughter was dealt is autism and that isn’t something we need you to apologise for. Autism doesn’t need a cure; it simply requires understanding.
The Mother of An Incredible Autistic Child