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Befriending Autism

Friends_0By Cathy Jameson

I’m more excited than my kids are about the start of a brand new school year.  Don’t get me wrong, spending the last few weeks with my children has been good.  Their long summer days, our late morning wake-ups, the outings we’ve gotten to do both in and out of town have kept our spirits high.  But it’s time we get back into a good routine again.  That routine will include school and some extracurricular activities like the kids’ sporting events.  Usually the highlight of my day, I love to go to their games.  Ronan isn’t always a big fan, but I try to get to as many events as he can handle. 

While he and I join the rest of the fans courtside or at the field, we’re usually approached by several friendly faces.  Mostly close friends who know our story intimately, we get to see a few other folks regularly while we’re out as well.  I’m grateful for when they nod or offer a polite hello as we walk by, but I can tell that they aren’t sure what to say or do when they see Ronan.  Not wanting to make them any more uncomfortable than they already seem, I thought of a few things they, and others in similar situations, might want to try when they see us next. 

Wave.  Ronan knows how to wave back.  Vomit meme

Say hi.  A quick, simple hello does wonders to my soul. 

Ask.  Ask how I’m doing.  Ask how Ronan is doing. 

Listen.  I’m a stay-at-home mom.  Some days, you may be the first adult I’ve gotten to talk to all day.  I miss adult interaction, so I apologize in advance if I get a little too Chatty Cathy with you. J

Be you.  We’ve obviously crossed paths for a reason.  Keep that connection going by telling me something happy or hopeful that’s happened to you. When you’re done catching up with me, talk to Ronan.  You know he can’t reply, but simply acknowledging what he’s doing is nice.  Tell him something like – You must really enjoy that game on your iPad, Ronan.  Look how well you’re doing!  Or note what he’s eating – What a fun snack you’ve got there!  Or pay him a compliment like you would any other kid – You’re doing a great job watching your sister play!  She must love seeing you here at her game. 

Those remarks will not be lost on Ronan.  He hears you.  He sees you.  He knows when people are being genuine and when they are not.  When you shower him with kindness, you shower all of us with kindness.  So, spread that love around!  I’m not saying you have to do it all the time, but one happy hello or one quick wave in his and my general direction really does go a long way.  Plus, if your children are close by and see you being positively in tune with us, they’ll pick up on what to do next time they run into us at other sporting events or at future school activities. 

Kids who are very familiar with Ronan love to be ambassadors for him when they see him at school functions.  They’re the ones who belt out loud, joyful, HELLO!!! greetings the second they see him.  They scoot over and ask for him to sit next to them at the lunch table.  They open the door and don’t mind waiting the extra few minutes they know it takes for Ronan to navigate the hall and doorway.  Without complaint or judgement, I love running into these helpful humans.  With each new school year and each new sports season, I know that we’ll soon get to meet new kids and their families. 

Some of the new kids will have no idea how to approach someone like Ronan though.  I used to be timid when I met new people as a child and completely understand the sense of fear they might be feeling.  Now, as the parent of a child who frequently gets stared at because he is different, I want to reach out to the most timid of children and gently teach them how to interact with Ronan.  Easily, I could sternly say, QUIT staring at him!, but that does none of us any good.  So, when I see a child who is inquisitively looking at Ronan and not rudely staring at him, I lead off with something like, “Isn’t it great that he has this adaptive stroller?  His legs don’t work as well as yours do, but he still gets to go out and have fun just like you do…”  Noting the difference, making a comment about the similarity, drawing that child in to bravely ask the question that’s burning on their mind – well, I absolutely welcome that opportunity!  I won’t give them every detail about Ronan’s vaccine injury or autism diagnosis, but if I can plant just one seed or give them the confidence to stick around and ask questions they may have, then the encounter was worth it. 

Friend pecs

From a sign language book series he enjoys,

Ronan’s favorite page with the cat and a new

page he’s been focusing on – the friend page.

We’re just a few days away from needing to set the alarm clocks and to pack the lunch boxes for long school days again.  I’m not looking forward to the mad morning dash, but I am looking forward to seeing my kids thrive in the classroom and on their sports’ teams again.  I can’t wait to cheer them on and to meet the new friends they’ll make.  While it can be a little awkward in the beginning, making new friends benefits the whole family, including Ronan. 

Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.   


Grace Green

Reading these comments just now I remembered that even I get those looks of scorn and hatred all the time. What can the reason be? Biologically, life is competitive. We are learning more every day about earlier species of man, such as the neanderthals. We clearly out-competed them - probably did away with many. Nowadays there has been constant strife between different races. People with autism can be seen as "the other", different, incomprehensible. Many people don't have a problem with difference but those who do are very hard to reach. Once one has personal experience of this, either by herself or their child, it becomes recognizable in all its forms.

Aimee Doyle

Cathy - always enjoy your posts.

Was thinking about what you said - "new kids have no idea how to approach Ronan." That doesn't necessarily change - I have relatives who, even after 20 years, have no idea how to approach my son.

I think the people I feel most for are those who have kids who are so severely impaired, so aggressive or self-injurious, they can't even take their children out in public. No wonder the media - and pretty much everyone else - ignore severe autism.

Cathy Jameson

Thank you, Gayle! Thank you also, Marie. I had a kid stare that 'nasty' stare two weeks ago. As much as it hurt, I wouldn't give him any of my attention nor let him steal my joy. Some days can be very tough, so I'm praying that we can both find (and keep!) the strength we need to navigate all that life brings us. xo

Marie Simonton

I hope that by reading this post, some of your positivity and fearlessness will rub off on me.
My son is 15 now and as hard as I've tried all these years to not let people's reactions to him bother me, they still do.
The what I call, nasty gawkers, are the ones that really get to me...staring at my son repeatedly, as if he were some kind of circus attraction.
There are times when I just stay home with him because I don't want to deal with these morons.
Kudos and thanks to you for sharing your experiences with Ronan.
There is nothing more encouraging than hearing from others who are in the same boat and you are certainly a captain...navigating your boat through some calm but many stormy seas with strength and steadiness and patience and love.


Cathy-Good luck to you and your family for a great school year! I love reading your articles every Sunday. Good luck to Ronan for a great school year too!

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