I was privileged a few years ago to run a house that offered respite for families of children with varying behavioural and physical abilities. Many of the kids we cared for were on the 'autism spectrum'. Autism is a spectrum disorder relating to social, communication, fine and gross motor, intellectual and other accessed skills. There are different types of autism and children with autism can have many related medical issues. The diagnose of children is on a spectrum, meaning there is a 'range' of functioning between those diagnosed with autism. (I am no expert just my understanding as a paediatric nurse of almost 20 years).
As I said I was grateful a few years ago to help these families out by running a house where the child diagnosed with Autism could come and interact socially with others whilst giving their families some respite. My life was changed by these families. The impact these children and their families had on me was profound. They taught me things about the world that I never would have seen through my own eyes. I was blessed to experience the lives of these families and gain a greater understanding of what this diagnosis means.
The other day I was busy doing my christmas shopping amongst the hundreds of other shoppers and I was walking through the centre and heard some yelling. I continued on and came across a mother sat on the floor with her son explaining calmly to him that the shop had sold out of red cars but that they had blue ones left. The child was obviously distressed and yelling loudly. I then saw the mother get up off the floor and remove herself from the child and begin to cry. There were so many people standing around 'watching' them and the mother decided to let everyone know what was happening. She yelled at the crowd that her son was autistic and not a side show to be starred at. I went up to this mother and asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She broke down, we distracted her son, sat down and had a coffee whilst he played with the red car I had in my bag.
This is not a story to highlight my help or to tell you about my disappointment in the crowd 'starring', it is about this mother and her son. I understand that many people do not know what to do or how they can help in a situation like this, well then keep walking. I didn't know if I could help but I choose to try or leave. I have just a small understanding of how difficult it can be to care for a child with autism, but what I do know is that the parents I have known over the years with children with autism are no different to me or you. They are doing the best they can with what they have.
I absolutely admire these parents and I am inspired all of the time in the way they navigate the world not only for how they feel but for their precious children. I admire their commitment and love in some of the toughest situations. Children with autism are a gift this world is yet to fully realise. They have so much to teach us I just wish for these families that society will soon catch up.
So to the mother in the shopping centre and all other parents who live everyday with a child with autism, I praise you and ask you to be patient with the rest of us and help us understand your life and the gorgeous gifts your children have to offer. To the children who have been in my life, thank you for teaching me and for letting me see YOU!
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