Dear Parents at the Park,
I’m sorry that we didn’t introduce ourselves when we ran into you the other day. We wanted to. Honestly.
Our hearts pounded and our minds raced when we looked up to see you and your beautiful little girl heading down the sidewalk to join us.
We were excited -thrilled even- to see a little girl our daughter’s age coming to play!
We were also terrified. Terrified that you would judge us. Even more terrified that you’d judge our little girl.
Autism isn’t a visible issue. Unlike other disabilities, there are no tell-tale physical traits easily recognized by the average joe.
So we worried.
Would you judge us for her mismatched outfit?
Your daughter was so put together, in her cute little dress and matching shoes. Ours was struggling with sensory issues that day. We were lucky to get her out of the house fully clothed. It took three different shirts, but she was finally able to keep the long sleeve striped shirt on without an outpouring of tears. At that point it hardly mattered to us that it didn’t match her brown sweatpants. Would it matter to you?
Would you judge us for her shaggy unkempt hair? Your daughter had such cute delicate curls and neatly combed hair. Her little barrette kept her bangs from falling into her eyes. Our daughter’s shaggy main has only been trimmed twice in her lifetime, quick hackjobs to keep the bangs from her eyes since she won’t allow ribbons, hair ties, or barrettes to remain in her hair for more than a moment. Those haircuts were hard battles to fight.
Would you judge her for her lack of speech? Your daughter said hello to us, but when you greeted our girl, instead of saying “Hello” she tried to push you down the slide.
Ultimately situations like this aren’t our daughter’s problem. They’re ours.
We weren’t sure what to do. We’re new to this. We didn’t know how, or when to bring up the fact that her behavior is different because she’s on the autism spectrum. I think the thing that we did wrong though, was to worry that the news would make you feel uncomfortable.
Looking back now, I realize that I could have just said, “Hi, I’m Jordon and this is my wife, Melissa. These are my daughters, Josephina and Juliana.” When you said hello, and she didn’t respond verbally, or make eye contact, I should have spoken up and said with a smile, “She’s on the autism spectrum. New social situations are hard for her, but we’re glad you’re here!”
Instead we quietly made excuses. Naptime. A dirty diaper. Time to go. Have fun!
The good news is that we’ll have another chance. Countless chances. And next time will be different.
Next time, I’ll be brave. Next time I won’t let my own insecurities stand in the way of my daughter having a good time.
Until then, I apologize for my mismatched outfit, my shaggy hair and unkempt beard, and the fact that I didn’t say hello. That was rude, and I know better.