This is an edited version of a post originally published on Respectfully Connected
A few years ago, my son’s former Occupational Therapist recommended a social skills program. My son attended one session of the six week program. They focused on “making a connection”. That was code for insisting that autistic children make eye contact, so I withdrew him from that program.
But making eye contact is not the focus of this post. This post is about my son making a different type of connection – a much more respectful one.
Over the weekend, my son met another autistic child. He has met other autistic children before, but this time was different. For the first time, he was able to interact with someone whose parents truly accept her.
You could see that shared acceptance in the way that they interacted. There was freedom in their play that you could feel. They chased bubbles that were produced by a busker while being in their own little bubble together. There was joy and mutual understanding that they were kindred.
I watched them play, and it filled me with happiness. He didn’t want to leave, but the day had to end. He fell contentedly asleep on the way home. As soon as we arrived, he woke up to ask me when he could see his new friend again.
Later that night, a twinge of sadness crept into me, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Today, I realised that I’m sad because it took so long for my son to meet another autistic child who is genuinely accepted.
It took me a long time to find my community, and I value the connections that I have within it. I don’t want my son growing up feeling disconnected from his people like I did. But, the autistic children that he has met in the past weren’t like him. They aren’t free to be themselves. There is very little acceptance of autistic children, even from many parents. Past interactions with other autistic children didn’t generate the tangible feeling of joy that was present this past weekend.
I am sad that it took so long for him to meet someone with whom he is free to be himself. Also, I am sad that more autistic children are not permitted to simply be themselves. I am happy and grateful that my son had this experience, and I wish more autistic children could.