I was honored to be invited to write a guest article for our local paper.
The following is the text (in case you cannot read it from the image):
In recent months my daughter has been called a nuisance, an animal, a clydesdale, possessed, a devil child.
We’ve moved three times in 18 months within the area for a variety reasons. Each time, we are conscious of who our surrounding neighbors will be. I knock on doors, get to know everyone I can reach and “prepare them” for our family’s entry into the community. Each time, we were soon blind-sided by claims that my family is disrupting the neighborhood.
We’ve encountered homeowner’s associations, angry and cursing neighbors, police, landlords and Child Protective Services (CPS). We’ve been asked “to keep (our child)” in the backyard (one neighbor added “in a cage”) and asked to limit backyard playtime. Some neighbors keep their distance, peer out their window and won’t make eye contact.
We’ve heard conversations change subjects and turn to a whisper in passing, and we can recognize the quiet grumblings of a rumor mill. We’ve gotten our share of unsolicited parenting advice, sometimes anonymously.
By the response, you would think we’re troublemakers. Rather, we are typical, well-meaning and considerate neighbors, but our daughter happens to have autism. She speaks loudly, makes “odd” noises and movements and, at times, has outrageous tantrums – especially in an unfamiliar environment (like when we move). She can be inappropriate or intrusive. Believe me, we know, we’ve been working on it for years. If you are surprised by this, you’re not alone, it caught me off-guard too.
I don’t resent those who have treated us poorly, rather pity them. I don’t mean to rant or cause outcry. Most people are good and well-meaning, yet sometimes the few influence the many. I am telling you this because good can come from consciousness of autism and all those it affects – not just the people who have it.
When Shayne was diagnosed 14 years ago, we grieved for years. In many ways, we are still grieving as are similar families. Now, I know that the extraordinary grief comes from an extreme amount of time spent with an unsolvable problem. Each child is different, there are few predictions, resolution is never final. Autism has implications to a parent’s entire life; family, career, finances, relationships. It begins with the grief, then the worries, the guilt, the stress of managing the therapies and behaviors. The topper is the constant concern a parent must have about our child’s interaction with society. We want to protect our kid from society and society from our kid.
Our family is fortunate, we are still intact. It is said that 80% of parents of autistic children end in divorce. This is tragic. My heart goes out to these families. Knowing what I know, I can understand why and can only imagine the difficulty of doing this without a partner. When we see a single parent, or any parent, out there struggling with an autistic child trying to keep their head above water, they’re not hard to spot, let’s do our best to throw them a life-preserver, not a rock.
Know that we did not choose autism, it chose us. We experience it every day and will for the rest of our lives. If it impacts you for a second, a minute an hour, perhaps it is autism’s way of choosing you. If we can make the best of it, I think it can make us all better. Who knows, maybe that’s its purpose.