Thursday, July 18, 2013

Reverse Stranger Danger

I taught my kids all about stranger danger. I read the statistics and got the books, had the talks and showed them the movies. We talked about appropriate, inappropriate, personal, private, and when to run like hell.

It never, not in my wildest dreams, occurred to me that someday Wil would grow to be a six-foot seventeen-year-old, that others might perceive as "dangerous." He, most literally, could not, and would not, hurt a fly.

My husband says we were lulled into believing that "everyone" knows him in the neighborhood, and was understanding, patient, kind, and big-hearted. I would argue that 90% of them do know him, and are. The other 10% are not the opposite of understanding, patient, kind and big-hearted, they are simply yet-to-be-converted.

In the year-plus that we've allowed Wil to go to the two parks by our house unaccompanied, we've only had one phone call and one stop-by from a concerned friend/neighbor. The first was a woman that got our number, and called because she was a speech path that had connected the dots with what was going on with Wil, but wanted me to know that she had seen him try to take a small child's hand and walk them from where they were right in front of their parent, to a place away from the parent. She knew he intended no harm, but wanted me to talk to him about not doing that - and of course, I did.

The second time we heard that anything was less than hunky dory, someone pulled up to our house and said Wil had had a run in with older kids, and had resorted to swearing. I am sure he did. I am also sure that he is not the first older kid to tell another older kid, to go to hell. I do, however, appreciate that this language is not okay in a park/school setting with families and young children all around, and foul language never solved anything.

When Wil is at the park, I am never far from home, and am usually at home. My cell phone is on. My radar is up. I am in the starting blocks at all times, hyper aware and ready to respond to anything at any moment. I came home from being gone briefly, and there were two messages. One from someone really wound up and one from someone that sounded concerned, but rational. I started by returning the call of the rational one. She is a daycare provider, has seen Wil a lot at the park with the kids she watches, and understands him. She was calling because the second caller had cornered her, trying to figure out who Wil is, because she was concerned he was riding his bike by her house frequently (she lives right by the school) and "staring" at her two little girls.

There isn't a doubt in my mind he is "guilty" of both.

The calm-headed daycare provider urged her to call me, rather than the police. She knew we could work it out, and that involving the police was unnecessary.

When I did reach the woman, I was able to tell her that I genuinely understood her concerns, and that I wouldn't like a "man" staring at my little girls, either, as he rode around on his bike. Truly, I do get it. If I were her, I would probably have done the same thing - figured out who this "character" was by asking around, and then work to get them to go away. I did tell her that Wil is on the spectrum and would never hurt her girls (or anyone), and she did come around, especially after I promised to talk to him, and have him ride right on by, rather than lingering there, watching what was going on in their front yard, which is apparently, highly fascinating.

Nonetheless, the whole thing has rattled me. Am I to never let him out of my sight? Am I to dog his every step, overhear and monitor his ever word?  Buffer him from the world, and the world from him, 24/7 for the rest of my life?

After going into a full-blown tailspin after the phone conversations, talking it all over with my husband, and having a beer, I got the mail. In it was a thank you note from one of Wil's assistants that had just graduated. He went on and on about what a privilege it was for him to have spent time with Wil over the last year, and thanking us for that opportunity. There was also a birthday card from a couple with a dog that Wil loves hanging out with at the dog park, they had given him a gift certificate for his favorite frozen yogurt place, and the card was heavily punctuated with exclamation marks and kind words. About an hour later I opened an e-mail from my brother telling us we've done an amazing job of enlightening other people's lives and perspectives about what Wil's gifts are - his contributions on this planet.

Sometimes I just want to be done enlightening and broadening perspectives, but I guess I am not. I guess that's part of the gig I signed up for on some cosmic level. I guess while others fight sexism, and racism, and other isms, I will fight intellectualism. I will continue to do what I can to broaden our understanding of different abilities, different behaviors, differences which are just that - not wrong or right, just differences from what is expected, from what is comfortable, and from what we might consider normal.

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Carrie is a parent and advocate of a child with special needs and even more special gifts. She blogs at where this is pretty much her favorite topic. Carrie’s book, WIL OF GOD: Embracing the Relentless Love of a Special Child, is available in print on Amazon and all e-readers.


  1. Wow. That was fantastic, Carrie, and deserves a wider audience. And you know I loved the part where you had a beer.

  2. I'll promote honest diapers for this one simple reason. Several days ago, I was playing with my 14-month-old daughter in the living room. It was "Hop-On-Pop" kind of playing. We laughed and had a lot of fun. Then mom took the baby for her bath. She then shouted to me, "Did you not smell her?" "Nope, never smelled a thing." "Well, she has diarrhea." And I did what any squeamish dad would have done. I checked myself over to make sure no...uh, well, poop had leaked out on me.
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  3. I, too, love that you had a beer. And I can definitely relate to this post on so many levels, especially how exhausting the "enlightening" part can be.

  4. I have a gentle giant of a son with autism, too, and I am so glad I found you! I sometimes forget that, at 6'2", with his full beard, constant scowl, and propensity to growl when he's annoyed, my son can be an intimidating presence. He's at a new job, and his coworkers clearly don't see how funny, intelligent, kind, and harmless he really is. After reading your post, I'm thinking I need to cut these people a little slack ... and maybe I'll even stop giving them the stink-eye.

  5. You're more forgiving than I would have been of the woman who was going to call the police about your son riding by her house and looking at her daughters. If he was planning on abducting them wouldn't he have been more stealthy? Or did she think he was going to grab them and peddle off with them? Why couldn't she have gone outside and asked your son what was up? That seems like the sensible thing to do. Instead, she saw him as some kind of menace. The silly cow probably watches too many police dramas and imagines that danger lurks around every corner.
    The constant harping on "Stranger Danger" does more harm than good, IMO. It makes children fearful and adults paranoid. Children are much more likely to be harmed by a family member or by someone they know than by a stranger but somehow the myth has been perpetuated that every male who walks in a park where children are playing is some kind of potential threat.