An Eden Mom Shares Her Story for Autism Awareness
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I write this for the ignorant woman at the restaurant Sunday night.
Yes, you. You know who you are. You were sitting at the table next to us, staring at my 12-year-old daughter. Then you started making fun of her, to your little girl, who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old. You were making that bunny rabbit face, because my daughter has two buck teeth. And you got caught, didn’t you? We locked eyes, just as you were making that face, and you knew I saw you and knew that you were making fun of my daughter.
You are lucky I was with my children. You are lucky I have class. And I guess you are lucky this is not the first time someone has stared at my daughter, because I’m not as temperamental as I used to be.
I can’t expect you to know my daughter is autistic. At first glance, she looks “normal,” right? No wheelchair. No missing limbs. I guess you didn’t see her swaying back and forth as she listened to her music, or me and my dad holding her chair so she wouldn’t fall back or jump up and away from us. All you saw was her two large front teeth.
You have no idea what it takes to get her to the dentist twice a year. You have no idea that it takes four of us to hold her down so the dentist can pry open her mouth and clean those big teeth. You have no idea that I argue with myself every day over whether to get her braces. That I took her for a consultation less than a year ago. That I watched as the special needs dentist tied my baby to a table with large straps of cloth like a cocoon to restrain her from moving.
You didn’t see the fear in my little non-verbal girl’s eyes as she stared at me, asking me without words what I was letting them do to her. You didn’t see my eyes fill with tears of guilt as I turned away and clutched my husband’s arm. And that was just to get a mold! You have no idea the process that was laid out for me as they explained what it would take to get braces on her mouth, and told me there was a good chance she would just rip them off her teeth.
You don’t know that I’ve been putting off making that follow-up appointment for braces. You don’t know how often I fight with myself over whether to put her through that pain, and confusion, and expense. Or that, thanks to you, first thing this morning, I made that call.
You can’t possibly know, right? Your little girl is “normal.” She chatters away. She has friends, rides a bike. Plays with toys. Sleeps through the night. She will probably move out someday, live on her own, get married, give you grandchildren. I’m jealous of you.
Know what else your little girl will do? Thanks to you, she will probably be a bully, to a little girl like mine. Because that night you shared your ignorance with your daughter. That is the worst part of what you did.
I thank God that my daughter doesn’t understand ignorance. She doesn’t understand cruelty or teasing. And Sunday night I was grateful for that. She didn’t see you. Only I did. She doesn’t care how she looks. It doesn’t bother her. It only bothers you and me.
And now I sit here wondering, do I put her through the agony of braces, to shield her from people like you? Because there’s people like you, everywhere. Cruel, ignorant people, teaching their kids to be cruel and ignorant.
OK, I have vented. Now I’m moving on. To my friends and family, thanks for reading. Do me one favor? Help me spread autism awareness. It’s not easy for me to write stuff like this, for all to read. But I’ve got to do something. Sunday night had to have happened for a reason. The more people understand, the more accepting they will be. Autism awareness starts here. Help me spread the word? Thanks.
Written by Stacie Sherman, whose daughter Brielle attends the Eden School.