Sorry, Not Sorry

During a lunch conversation with a friend the other day I was reminded that typical adults and children need to be aware of individuals with autism just as much as kids with autism need to be taught to function in the world around them. It goes both ways. We get caught up in worrying about individuals with disabilities being able to fit in and function in society when in reality, society also needs to educate themselves, and in some cases their children, so that there is an equal understanding.

There’s a lot of focus on teaching children about autism, but I think there is also a need to educate elders about it as well. Some of them come from a time when children were left undiagnosed or it was something that wasn’t talked about. These days it’s a reality for so many families and it’s important that people of all ages are educated about autism and how it can look very different.

A few weeks ago I decided to take my daughter Adalyn (who was diagnosed with autism when she was two years old) to visit her 3 year old  cousin. Ady’s cousin only gets to see her once in a while because of the distance. I hesitated taking Ady because it’s not always easy taking her to new places. My sister and brother-in-law made a point to talk to my niece before our arrival and help her to understand Ady’s autism better. They read books together and had open discussions about it. From the time we arrived until the time we left, we saw nothing but love and understanding. This was all coming from a three-year-old who was just taught about her cousin’s disability. A life lesson that I hope will carry with her. There were many times where her cousin could’ve questioned and got upset about things that Ady did or behaviors that were different, but she didn’t. She didn’t react in haste or make Ady feel different in any way. Georgia never once got upset with her for not responding when spoken to because she knew that Ady was listening. Instead, she was patient with her and tried to understand her better.

So fast forward about three weeks. We decided to go over to the park that is across the street from our house. Ady has been playing there since she was able to walk. It’s basically her backyard. On this particular day, there were not many people aside from her siblings and a girl who happened to be the same age as Ady. She was being watched by her grandmother.

I always have eyes on Ady, even though it is a place I feel comfortable taking her. One thing that she has done lately is go to where other people are sitting and want to pick up water bottles. I always correct her and tell her to put them back and follow up by telling her she can’t use other peoples things without asking. Even if she doesn’t respond, I know she hears me.

On this particular day,  she saw a pink water bottle about 20 feet from where we were playing. It was on the bench next To the woman that had been watching her granddaughter. As she picked up the water bottle everything following felt like slow motion. I yelled to Ady to leave it alone, but before I could get to her the woman who had been sitting on the bench got up quickly and grabbed Ady by the arm and the waist and pulled her back and grabbed the bottle away from her. Even though it wasn’t forceful, just the fact that she put her hands on Ady, put me in a state of shock. She knew I was with Ady and remained at the park for the next hour, but said nothing to me. I contemplated the entire time what I should say or do.

I always thought of myself as a “mama bear”, but in an instant I was just frozen in shock. I don’t think it’s ever OK to put hands on someone else’s child. (I’ve taught for 16 years and I would never think to do that). Essentially Ady was just shaking (stimming) with a water bottle and decided to take off with it. The worst that could’ve  happened was that she would’ve ran off with it and it could’ve been retrieved.

I internalized it the rest of the evening, calling several people to talk about it because I felt like a bad mom. I wanted to react differently, but didn’t. I was so use to saying sorry and being apologetic over Ady’s actions. I was beating myself up over it as a parent. Even  just to say “why did you do that?” So after a few days of agonizing over it, I decided that I wanted it to be the topic for my next blog post. I wanted to share in hopes that it may change the way others react to those with disabilities or just others in general.

I don’t regret my decision to not have a confrontation. I think some of the best choices I’ve made have come from thinking about situations and using them to grow and help others and even myself at times.

Instead of always feeling like I need to say sorry,  I think there needs to be more focus on making typical adults and children more conscious of the people around them and how different everyone is. Ady works every single day on doing what comes naturally to most. Let’s shift the effort to learning about individuals with disabilities and how we can better show inclusion and understanding.

How we react to situations is everything. I hope if anything is taken from this post it is that when undesirable behaviors are exhibited from any child whether it be typical or a child with autism we think before reacting. That person may not understand what he or she is doing is not appropriate, but handle that with consideration and respect.

Instead of always worrying about apologizing, I want to be able to feel acceptance and for everyone  to show grace. We can accept everyone the way they are, even if they do things a little different. Age 3 or 73 there will always be life lessons to learn.

Susan Bitler
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