autism aware


Ed note: Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments on yesterday’s post. (Except for the one who felt the need to write ‘This retarded.” in response to a post about how hurtful the word can be to our children, written in large part by a nine-year old. Classy, my friend, classy.)

But to those who have made the effort to remove the ‘R’ word from your own lexicons, and even more to those who have then spread the word to others, I am grateful. To those who posted a link to the blog or who started a conversation with a friend yesterday, to those who might have been inspired and empowered to speak up the next time you hear the word, thank you.

I hope to readdress the thread that began on diary’s Facebook page yesterday about HOW we approach people who might be unwittingly offending or hurting those we hold dear.

How do we shoulder our bats when we want to come out swinging? How do we move past anger and defensiveness to interact with one another thoughtfully, respectfully? How do we dig deep enough to find the place where compassion dwells? How can we find common ground with those who feel so far removed from our experience?

Timely questions, I think as I believe they are poignantly and profoundly relevant right now – not just to us as individuals, but to us as a community, a nation and as citizens of the world.

How do we change the tenor of our discourse?

I will return to offer my own answers to those questions.

But in the meantime, I could use a little light and funny, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. So I give you the story of Becky and a little girl who, despite frequent evidence to the contrary, is ALWAYS listening …


The other night on the way home from work, I stopped into Whole Foods to pick up a couple of items that we needed. I was hoping it would be a surgical strike – in and out with the stealth and speed of a cat burglar. But you know, one who pays instead of steals stuff. Or like those Special Ops guys. But one who doesn’t kill anyone, cause that’s just so not me. Oh, whatever – I wanted to be quick.

As I turned my cart into the produce aisle, I nearly bumped into the family of a little girl in Brooke’s class. “Becky” is the cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen. Like Brooke, Becky is on the autism spectrum. Although they have EXTREMELY different personalities and their individual brands of autism manifest themselves in very different ways, they share many of the same overarching challenges.

They each have their own dedicated aide in school, so there’s a practical ease that comes from placing them in the same class. They have been together in this arrangement since preschool. Over the years, we have joked with her parents that they will have to choose a college together.

Becky is a walking, talking, laughing bundle of love. She is energetic and bright and simply explodes with joy.

Every morning last summer when I brought Brooke to camp, Becky would come running up to me at full speed and yell, “Good morning, Brooke’s Mom, I mean Mrs [Diary]!!” She’d come careening into me and land square in my gut, in a delicious cross between a body-slam and a hug. She’d then step back looking very serious and ask, “Where’s Brooke’s Dad?”

I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start those days.

As I greeted her mom and dad at the market, Becky stood up from the inside of her mom’s cart. Her face lit up with recognition the moment she saw me. As tired as I was at the end of a long day, her smile filled me with energy.

“Hello, Brooke’s M ..!” she yelled before stopping short at the ‘M’. “Hello, Mr Diary!” she yelled again. “I mean, hello, Mrs Diary!” She looked very pleased with herself for getting it right.

I looked down into the cart. “Well, hello, Miss Becky! That was a great job fixing those words! You fixed that TWICE and got it EXACTLY right!”

She beamed up at me.

“Mrs Diary? Where’s Brooke?” she asked.

I told her that Brooke was with her daddy and that I was going to meet them as soon as I was done shopping.

“Mrs Diary? Where’s Katie?” she asked.

I explained that Katie was with Brooke and Luau.

“Mrs Diary, Where’s MISTER Diary?”

I told her that he was at home and that I was on my way to see him.

Becky’s parents stood by as we talked some more. She told me her address and asked me mine. She laughed at the name of our street and yelled it in a sing-song. I teasingly shushed her, telling her we’d better not shout it out or people might think we were having a party.

She cracked up. “A party!!” Laughing so hard she had to clutch her belly she added, “I had a party once!! It was a birthday party and it was fun! Do you remember that, Brooke’s Mom?” The words were spilling out in classic Becky rapid fire.

I finally managed to say good-bye and complete my shopping run. As I turned the corner, I could still hear Becky’s happy sing-song.

When I got home, I found Brooke in the playroom, cutting pictures out of a coloring book. I sat down next to her and watched her for a while, enjoying the easy silence.

“Hey, Brooke,” I said finally, “guess who I saw at the market?”

She didn’t look up.


“I saw your friend Becky!”

As she worked her little scissors around the page she said, “You did?”

“I did!”

Without looking up from her page, she responded with four words. Four words that showed unequivocally that she was paying attention, and that she knew her classmate well.

“She talks .. A LOT.”

13 thoughts on “autism aware

  1. ROFL!!! I had this same realization with my Munchkin just the other day. He was head (and arms and legs and…) long into his FAVORITE video game while I was trying to get our stuff together for the day, as we cyber school. I asked Munchkin no less than 3 times to do something and it had not been done. In my usual mom manner, I jumped to the conclusion that he had been ignoring me in lieu of the game. So I told Munchkin “okay time for the game to be turned off.” His reply? “Muh-ther, I HEARD you…you said for me to do this and this and this…I just haven’t gotten to a save point yet so can you wait a minute PLEASE???? And I’m SORRY if I sounded rude.” (this last part said with a downward glance and and a shy grin.) All I could think of to say in a very soft voice was “Point made, Munchkin.” I love when you Kids teach us more than we thought they knew! 😉

  2. Okay DOAM I am a little stuck at the comment someone made, ‘This retarded’, really? In this day and age to be blatantly hurtful, after what we just went through over the weekend, and the call to be more respectful of the words we use. Seriously? Gosh knows I am not perfect, but have mercy I am not mean. WOW…..
    Okay as for Becky, she is edible. Plain and simple, edible. Oh and she reminds me of someone….oh Aidan……

  3. What a great story! I guess I needed a funny today too. It’s a video on my blog.

    I am someone who linked your blog yesterday on facebook. A good friend of mine is a youth group director at a local church. She read your post and said that over the years she had seen many different “words” come through. Currently, “retarded” and that’s so “gay” are the ones spoken, by teens and tweens (really good kids) in a manner that says they don’t know how hurtful it can be. She also reposted it on facebook for all of her teens to read and plans to do a follow up youth group about it in February! You have no idea how far your word will reach! Thanks for the great posts.

  4. As a mom of a special needs child, I am amazed and HORRIFIED when people use the dreaded “R” word. Will be anxiously waiting your follow-ups on “how to shoulder our bats when we want to come out swinging!” (LOVED that, BTW!) See you on the high road, girlfriend. Always love what you have to say…

  5. I’m equally struck by the poor grammar of the comment (says the former 7th grade English teacher). Clearly, both the grammar and the content reflect equal levels of ignorance.

    And don’t you love how our kids just get right to the heart of the matter sometimes?

  6. “How do we shoulder our bats when we want to come out swinging? How do we move past anger and defensiveness to interact with one another thoughtfully, respectfully? How do we dig deep enough to find the place where compassion dwells? How can we find common ground with those who feel so far removed from our experience?”

    These are exactly the questions I’ve been trying to answer for years and years. I have some thoughts and hope others will respond with theirs. There are two books that immediately come to mind: Anger, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

    In Anger, Hanh describes dealing with anger as developing compassion for yourself first – compassion even towards your anger. Anger is an emotion we’ll never be able to just avoid entirely, and it is an appropriate response at times. We can’t just leave it sit around, it will make a stench. Your anger is a part of you, and all of you deserves compassion. The metaphor he refers to throughout the book is composting: anger is like garbage, and through compassion, we can compost it into fertile ground, and grow beautiful flowers in it.

    Hanh writes a lot about suffering in relation to anger as well. When you are angry at someone, generally that person has caused you suffering in some way (e.g. by saying “that” word). Responding while angry means that you will cause suffering in return. Unless that person has the kind of highly developed compassion described above (and if they did, I don’t think it possible they’d be using that word) then that person will become angry in response to their suffering. Then it becomes a cycle of anger and suffering instead of a cycle of compassion and connection.

    When you understand how that cycle of anger and suffering feeds upon itself, you can go a step back in time to just before that person did the thing that you feel angry about. That person caused you suffering, because that person is suffering. Finding the suffering in that person will help you feel compassion for them. Then if you can lead the other person toward overcoming their own suffering, they will stop hurting others.

    In The Untethered Soul, (of which I’ve read only the first two chapters so far), Singer writes about that voice that you hear telling you things, all the time. (If you just heard in your head, “What voice? I don’t have a voice.” – that’s the voice he’s talking about.) The voice is not you. *You* are the silence that listens to that voice. Sometimes that voice says things that aren’t helpful, and you don’t have to listen to that. Because it’s not YOU. When you’re in the immediate heat of your anger, as DOAM said you want to come out swinging, it’s that voice that’s egging you on, telling you to swing for the fences.

    You – the inner silence you – are not your anger. You – the real, inner you – can observe your anger. Notice that you are angry, be mindful of it. Then you can use your free will to *choose* how to respond instead of letting that voice that is not you speak for you. DOAM used writing an email to quiet that voice and speak from her compassionate heart. And she was very successful in creating change, by doing so.

    So I think that the way to shoulder your bat is to remember that if you swing it, you will only distance yourself further from the person you want to change. The further away from someone you are, the harder it is to change it.

    Try this: get a pen and piece of paper. Write your name. Now move back one foot (or 30 cm) and write your name again. Keep doing that. Notice how much sloppier your handwriting becomes, the further away from the paper you are. When you get far enough away, you can’t write at all. The pen doesn’t even touch the paper. Anger causes distance. Compassion brings people closer.

    If you want to write on someone’s heart, you have to be very close to them.

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