“So…how do you turn the autism radar off?”
This was a question I asked some of my autism mom friends after coming home from a friend’s child’s birthday party. As I watched my kids play at the party, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of two of the other little boys there. One was spinning in circles next to his mom and baby brother, making loud noises as he crashed into the present table. Another was off in a corner away from all the noise, terribly afraid of the kids playing around him.
Even the autism mom in me might have been able to pass this off as “typical” four year old behavior. Except their parents had the look too. The look of exhaustion. Of embarrassment. That look of “I have no idea what to do with my child”.
I sat at that party cursing my autism radar. I just wanted to be my kids’ mom there. Instead, I was analyzing and overanalyzing every other child in that place, just like I do at the playground, the baseball field and the supermarket. I’m so familiar with the signs now that I can see things that others cannot.
So I asked my smart and experienced friends that question. “How do you turn the autism radar off…is it everywhere or is it me? I just wanted to enjoy the party. But all I could see was what the other parents weren’t seeing.”
And the answer was: you can’t turn it off.
Part of the reason, they reminded me, is that it is everywhere. The official numbers might be 1 in 110 children, but the reality is that it’s probably much higher than that. And considering the age group and the activity at the party, that’s the time when many of the red flag behaviors come out.
They also reminded me that autism is part of me now. My perception of the world has changed. Hell, my whole world has changed. No matter how hard I try not to let it happen, autism seeps into everything these days. So how could I not see it when it’s so prevalent in my everyday life?
And then, another friend chimed in. A brilliant mom who has been there, done that with her amazing daughter.
“Look, you're never going to be able to turn it off. You *will* however, be able to, from time to time, feel like you belong to an underground family of really, really great people. You may already feel like this. We see things that others don't, and we can either let it bog us down, or look at it like this: we see beauty in things others can’t. Things like acquiring language. Potty training... Our kids doing things we NEVER thought they'd do. So try framing it like this: you have powers that can help.”
Just like that, my curse became a blessing. I now had a superpower. I can see what others can’t. And that’s a good thing.
Instead of being the mom that pulls her kids away from the chaos, I can be the mom at the birthday party who steps in to help when I see a child spiraling out of control. Instead of being the parent that rolls her eyes at the difficult kid at the playground, I can be the person who sits next to the tired looking dad and share a joke or two.
I can be the one to start the conversation when others back away.
So watch out, America. Because this autism mom has her radar up. And I’m here to help.
"Suddenly I see (Suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (Suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me" - Suddenly I See by KT Tunstall