Unfortunately, I’ve Heard That Before “Parents Worried my Son with Autism is in Your Child’s Class”

Recently, I read a blog that really hit me in the heart.  It was an open letter written to the parents who were worried if her child, who has autism, was in their child’s class.  You can read her blog in it’s entirety here.

The parents, let’s face it, weren’t excited to find out if her son who needs extra support services was in their child’s class, they were afraid he might be.  They were concerned.  They were worried.  Maybe they thought the teacher would spend too much time focusing on the special needs child and that valuable teaching time would taken  away from their child.  Maybe they were worried their child might pick up some bad behaviors of the special needs child and begin to act out too, in order to get some of the teacher’s attention.  This mom heard about the flurry of activity of the other parents trying to find out where her child was placed through a mutual parent who had heard about what was going on and was brave and honest enough to tell her about it.  I’m happy she did.  It’s a painful truth but one we as special needs parents know probably goes on.  Maybe sometimes we don’t want to face it.  Maybe we want to turn a blind eye and pretend like the whole world loves our special kids as much as we do.  But even in today’s politically correct world that is not always the case and not everyone is as progressed as we would like them to be.

And the thing is, before I was a “special needs mom,” I was a mom of a typical kid.  Actually, some might say he was an overachiever, even as a toddler.  Maybe even advanced.  He talked early.  He walked early.  He was outgoing and smart as a whip.  And there was a time when he was my only son and I didn’t know what it was like to be the mom of a special needs child.  I only knew what it was like to be the mom of this boy.  This high-achieving boy.  But I still remember that day I was standing in line at the preschool waiting to drop off my young high-achieving son as the moms were whispering outside the class in line because they had just heard the rumor that a little boy with “autism” was going to be joining the class.  I remember their faces as they were discussing it.  I remember the worried looks.  I remember the way they said the word “autism” as if it was a dirty word to be whispered.  I remember the scrunched-up noses.  I had just moved to this town so no one really knew me, so no one really included me in the conversation.  Just as well.  I only overheard them as they wondered aloud why this mom would want her son to even go to this preschool.  “Why wouldn’t she want him to go to a school where he could get better care?” they pretended to ask worriedly.  What would this mean for the teacher?  Would this take all her time away from all the other kids?  I didn’t say a word.  I just stood there in silence feeling sorry for this new family that they were so unwelcomed here.  I dropped my son off and I remember walking away and feeling terrible.  I felt terrible that I hadn’t said anything to defend this new family and terrible they were being so selfish in their worries.  It was preschool, for goodness sake.  They were learning to stand in line, sit criss-cross applesauce and maybe, if we were lucky, learn their letters by the end of the year.   How could this one little boy take any of that away.  Knowing what I know now, I realize all the benefits of having a special needs child in your life and how much of a better person you become from it.  But at the time, I wouldn’t have even been able to voice those opinions.  I’m not sure I even knew them myself.

As it turned out, the moms worries were unnecessary and the little boy was quite high-functioning from what I can remember.  He fit in really well with the class.  I never remember hearing anything about him, negative or positive.  But again, I am not one of those super involved moms.  I show up for the before and after school, for the presentations and the shows, smile, say hello and find my way back to my own life.  So beyond that conversation that day, where I overheard everyone judging this family about their school choice, that’s about as much interaction I had with those women.

What I didn’t know at the time was at the very moment I was overhearing that conversation that day, I was carrying a little 5-month old baby boy in a car seat who would soon take us down our very own path and journey with autism.  Had I had known, I most definitely wouldn’t have walked out of that school in silence.  I still regret leaving and saying nothing.

I don’t know how many conversations have been had by the many parents, of the many kids, who have come in contact with my young son over the past how ever many years he’s been in Loudoun County Public Schools.  But I do know this, you never know what life is going to throw at you or what surprises life has in store.  Special needs parents do not choose their life.  It chooses us.  And we deal every day with it, struggles and all, making the best choices for our children, weighing each decision against the next.  And what we really could use from the community is compassion but I think even more so is acceptance.  I think that is what that mother who wrote the letter really needed from those parents in her son’s class.  And in the end, isn’t that what we all need?