41: Reconnect

41: Reconnect

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum


Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

~Henry James

Joey paced back and forth at the top of the slide waiting for me to clear the puddle from the gravely dirt at the bottom, my last task on his take-off checklist. I’d spent the past ten minutes ridding the slide of its seventeen dew droplets, barely visible to the human eye, by using a dirty paper towel I had found in the trash receptacle. After twenty minutes, and the completion of five tasks, Joey tentatively sat down and slowly slid his way down to the bottom. He then proceeded back up the stairs to slide down again, exactly the way he had climbed up and slid down the time before . . . my much-needed break had come.

I sat down on the bench and took pride in my ability to resolve his issues once again. As my eyes took a brief recess from watching him, I noticed a flock of mothers looking at me. Disgust, irritation and disbelief were a few of the emotions I saw in their faces.

“I’ve heard of spoiled but come on — dry off the slide?”

No one understood and I didn’t want to explain what Joey’s issues were. I wanted to yell out, “I am not spoiling him! I am just making his environment one he can tolerate for twenty minutes to slide down a slide a few times . . . to do everyday things your children do and you don’t have to think about!” At times, I secretly wished Joey had Down syndrome or some other “visible” disorder that people would recognize immediately, thus feeling instant empathy towards me. Rather, Joey, like many autistic children, was an adorable little boy with blond hair and big brown eyes.

I leaned back, brushed the gravel off my jeans and their comments off my mind and closed my eyes, taking comfort in my isolation. I didn’t want to spend time with people who gave us dirty looks or didn’t take the time to understand.

Then one day I was on the playground taking my break as Joey slid down the slide and one of the mommies approached me. She sat down next to me on the bench and handed me a paper bag. I opened it to find some dishtowels and a small bar of chocolate. Confused, I asked what it was for.

“I always kept a bag in my car when my oldest son was about your son’s age,” she said. “I got tired of going through the trash to find something to wipe down the slide. The chocolate bar was my reward after I helped my son get down the slide comfortably.”

Through tears of disbelief I thanked her and she hugged me. I had been so alone for so long, I could barely contain myself. I began to sob. “We wanted to help; we just didn’t understand,” said the other mothers as they handed me tissues.

Many people make negative or derogatory comments about things they don’t understand or can’t explain. I’ve learned to look beyond those comments and take the time to “understand” them so they in turn can understand me. Since then, I have handed out a lot of paper bags, some filled with dishtowels, some filled with extra baby clothes for a new mother, or a spa candle and bath bubbles for someone appearing overwhelmed.

I have grown to realize that, though our children may lead us down different paths, we as parents all have the same wishes and instincts and that is what unites us. It’s worth trying to reconnect with someone you feel has hurt you. Make a point to have coffee with your neighbor or a family member that you have disassociated yourself from. Maybe they just couldn’t understand what you were going through. There’s a paper bag with your name on it waiting for you.

~Anne Moore Burnett

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