I found myself in a conversation with the cashier at Walmart today. She commented on the giant value size box of Pop-Tarts I bought and how her grandkids went through that same size box in a weekend.
“Oh, I hear ya!” I said. “My middle kiddo has autism and Pop-Tarts are pretty much the only thing he eats right now.”
“That’s too bad,” she replied. “I’m sorry your family has to deal with that.”
“Oh, we’ll just make a little extra room in the grocery budget. It’ll be fine.”
She looked at me with a puzzled expression and I realized she wasn’t apologizing for the obscene amount of pop tarts we were purchasing.
No, she was sorry my son had autism.
I didn’t say anything because, like most difficult conversations, the words didn’t come to me until hours later when I replayed the conversation in my head in the shower.
“I’m sorry you’re so ignorant,” I thought. That would have been a zinger.
Or even better, “I’m sorry you’ve never had the privilege of knowing someone with autism.” That would have made her think about her apology.
But, I also realized this lady had no idea what she was saying. Shoot, there was even a time in my life when I probably would have told an autism parent I was sorry for her struggle.
But the truth is friends, autism is nothing to be sorry about.
Autism means my son sees the world in a different way than you and I do. Sounds are different, tastes are different, and the things he notices are different. I recently learned he even experiences hot and cold temperatures differently than I do! Sure, sometimes that’s a struggle, but learning new things is rarely easy. It’s also an amazing blessing!
I’ve been able to look at the world from an entirely new perspective. He’s taught me to see the peacefulness that comes from a dark room and a cozy blanket. He’s helped me to see the simple satisfaction that comes from a perfectly lined up train set. He’s made me slow down and examine the underside of rocks, the insides of toys, and the way the wheels on a car all spin together.
He has taught me that words are such a small part of communication. Just as I teach him how to make other people feel loved and happy, he shows me what he needs to feel the same.
I’ve taught him how to express when he is happy or sad or frustrated, and he has taught me that a big, tight, hug can help him work through those emotions I’ve made him label.
Autism has taught me to care less about what other people think and more about what we need to thrive.
It has taught me that being “normal” is overrated.
Autism has helped me see the true beauty that lies in the different, the strange, and the unique.
There’s no need to apologize for that.
This post originally appeared on the author’s Facebook page
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