Sunday, April 17, 2011

Suddenly I See

“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


  1. Sometimes I feel like the Bionic Woman, I can sense if a child has/adult has autism. It's not a preferred power either, but it can be a blessing, just like our kiddos.

  2. I also see it as a spectrummy superpower. With great power, comes great responsibility, something the world could use a little more of right now.

  3. I think of it as spreading the love. I had no one when the Boy was first diagnosed. Now I try to do for others what wasn't done for me. xox

  4. This is great, Alysia! I see autism and SPD everywhere I go, even places I really would rather ignore it, like in the case of my nephew whose parents are in complete denial. I like seeing this as a super power though! Thanks for changing my perspective!

  5. This is such a beautiful and honest post. You have made me feel a lot better about my superpower. Lots of love

  6. I like how you reframe this as a superpower. It is a nice way to approach it. Another beautiful post Alysia. Thank you.

  7. Thank you, but this insight belongs to my superhero friends. This post wrote itself :) Or rather, they wrote it for me :)

  8. This is great. Once I realized how much that smile and the occasional help meant to me, I recognized that it can help others too. I don't want another mom (or dad) to be alone in this. It's a very nice thing, I think, to unobtrusively support.

  9. I definitely experience this when I go out! I'm not a spectrumparent, so my powers are much weaker, but I definitely find myself seeing kids at the park/mall/etc in a much different light than I used to. I try to at least offer a smile whenever I can, and more if it seems as though it would be appreciated. Even if my autism radar is wrong, kindness seems to be universally appreciated.

  10. I think the best part of having the power to see autism everywhere is that my daughter has the power now too. Because of her brother's autism, she is so much more tolerant and accepting of differences in others, and seeks out children who are "different" to play with. So often children can be cruel. I feel blessed that my daughter is "all-inclusive" and it is a trait that will serve her well throughout her life.

  11. I totally love love love this post - especially the part at being able to see much more of the world thru our eyes.

  12. A friend of mine recently told me that a friend of hers was saying how her son at 18mos. still had no language and seemed very "shy" around other children. She told me how she wanted to say something to her about getting her child evaluated, but that she was too afraid to "insult" this friend of hers. I felt so bad for this child, SOMEONE has got to have their Radar up for her, her mother doesn't have this Radar yet, and maybe if someone else who does can help get her one day closer to an evaluation and one step closer to getting early intervention if needed she can reach her unimaginable potential!! Radar is knowledge and I don't want to turn it off - I need to use it like a super hero to help others who don't have it!! It's a gift.......

  13. Hey?! I thought I'd already commented on this!!?
    Anyhow....fabulous post Alysia (as always). Thank you for helping me to see this curse as a blessing in disguise! I have too often wondered how to turn the darn radar off!