What an Autism Parent Notices
This happens to me all the time. (I’ll assume this also happens to lots of AutParents.)
I’m in a breakfast room at a hotel. I get up to get a spoon and I notice this seven or eight-year-old boy organizing the salt and pepper packets in the container.
He’s divided the salt to one side and was lining them up neatly. The pepper was on the other side of the container, also lined up neatly.
What did I think?
First, I have a tendency to notice details. I’m an observant person.
Second, for the last seventeen years, I have been immersed in autism. Learning about it, practicing strategies with my son, and writing about it.
Autism is in my brain.
So, I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting. Something about that seems familiar.”
What does that mean?
It means my mind goes there. It goes to that autism place.
In other words, after seventeen years, I can’t help myself.
What happens in my head?
Something like this…
“Hey, does that little boy have a trait that is on the autism spectrum? He’s lined up salt and pepper packets and he’s making sure they are neatly ordered. He’s so focused on it. Why does he do that?”
What does it all mean?
Can it mean exactly what I was thinking?
No, of course not. Certainly not.
It can mean nothing. Just some kid being a kid.
However, it could also mean I spotted something that feels familiar.
It may be one of those numerous traits that individuals on the autism spectrum might display.
Just one, right? Which, again, might mean nothing.
Just the one… Meaning the boy does not land on the autism spectrum.
What am I trying to say?
That I noticed it.
That I notice it all the time because I’m the mother of an individual on the autism spectrum.
That’s just the way it is.
Is there more to it?
Maybe, maybe not.
I’m an experienced AutParent who is also detail-oriented and a people watcher.
Similarly, I know enough about autism to know that things I see are not necessarily autism. They might just be a common trait. A whole lotta nothing.
A fidgety person might just be fidgety.
Except for what?
Except that my mind does go there.
For instance, I work in child care at a gym. If a parent drops off their child, we are just supposed to keep that child safe and entertained (toys, books, crafts, games, etc.).
Over the years, I’ve noticed “traits” that went “ding, ding, ding” in my head (lack of eye contact, hyper-focused on one toy, etc.)
Some of these kids are young (babies and toddlers).
How do I react at work?
I do nothing.
As an employee, I cannot say anything to the parent, nor do I.
I keep the things I notice to myself.
(On a side note, even if a child has autism, very few of our parents will tell us. That’s just the way it is.)
In addition, I might be a parent of an individual on the autism spectrum, but I am not a professional in that field. I have absolutely no rights to say anything to anyone.
Does that stop me from making a possible connection?
Inside my mind, no.
If I notice a trait, I notice it.
Perhaps I see more than one.
Maybe I see a child often enough to make a guess.
Which always remains only with me. Because it really is just a guess.
What about other AutParents?
I suspect they do this, too. Walk around the world, see things, and think, “Hmm, that looks familiar.”
Above all, parents like me have experience. We know what to look for because we have experienced it (whatever that “it” is) in our own children.
We have this autism programming.
A sixth sense, if you will.
Therefore, we know it when we see it. But, how much of that really matters?
Does this extra “skill” mean anything?
For me, usually not.
Until a friend calls and asks me for an occasional favor.
What’s the favor?
This friend is a pediatrician. The friend will call and ask if I wouldn’t mind talking to a parent of a newly-diagnosed kid. The parent has given their approval.
In a phone call, I can pay forward my experience. Answer questions. Offer advice.
I cannot evaluate, nor do I. I can provide my experience to others, that’s it.
What does it mean to me?
It means that in some small ways I can help. In my own way with my own skills.
In conclusion, it means that when I’m out in the world, I do see things through this autism lens. Because I’m that type of person and because of my unique experiences.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) I can’t really turn it off.
Because autism is in my house and has been my life for a long time now.
Additionally, because knowledge can be powerful. And helpful. And true.
What an Autism Parent Notices
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