My son didn’t know it, but it wasn’t even about autism…
This was our view while we waited for fireworks on Independence Day…
It was a lovely sight with the flag hanging in the street and kids laughing and playing together.
Some were doing cartwheels.
Some were playing catch.
Some were shooting hoops.
They were all ages from toddler to teenager.
It felt like summer.
It felt like freedom.
It felt like
Until it didn’t…
My son is 7.
He’s sweet and funny.
He loves peanut butter and books.
He has beautiful blue eyes.
And he has Autism.
That means he is different than most kids. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s never quiet.
He moves his body in strange ways. He has to be taught things that come naturally to most people. He doesn’t always make eye contact. He plays by himself usually.
As we pulled into our parking spot on Independence Day, he looked around at all the people.
He saw the kids playing catch. He saw them laughing.
For the first time ever, he verbally asked me to play with other kids.
It wasn’t easy for him; he used every bit of concentration he could muster for me to understand him clearly. He looked me right in the eye.
“I want…play… ball… kids.”
I was hesitant, but I have this rule about honoring what he says because it is so difficult for him to say something. So, I gave him permission.
“You want to play with them? Ok. Go play.”
And I held my breath as I watched him bravely walk into this crowd of strangers having fun.
One boy had just kicked a soccer ball away from the court and it was left sitting by the fence.
No one was playing with it. My son saw it and ran toward it happily.
He picked it up, took it back to the court, and tried to shoot it at the basketball goal.
He has no idea that you’re not supposed to use a soccer ball on the basketball court…
The other kids were staring at him. After he shot it, the same kid who kicked it earlier kicked it again, this time much further away to where my son knew he shouldn’t go.
He looked at the boy puzzled with his head cocked as he tried to understand the social cues all around him.
All the boys playing basketball left the court. Every one of them. They took their basketballs and walked the short distance back to where their adults were sitting on blankets and lawn chairs.
My son turned to a different group of kids playing with a kickball. He walked over beside them; I could see him signing “play.” They didn’t know what he meant. They all looked at him with confusion. They picked up their ball and walked back to their adults too.
Within two minutes, all these happy, playing kids were sitting back on the sidelines watching my son. He looked around him at the empty court. I’m sure he felt confused and disappointed. He started screaming and flailing.
I called him back to me with my stern mom voice to make sure he heard me and didn’t run off a different direction. We climbed back in our van where he had a meltdown and I cried.
This was the first time I’d witnessed my son be so openly excluded…
…the first time our community failed him.
Now, you can judge me all you want, but I’m my biggest critic.
What was I thinking just letting him walk out there with no voice, no advocate?!
Why didn’t I just go with him and talk to those kids, help them understand what was going on?
Why didn’t I intervene when the first group of kids walked away?
Why wasn’t I more prepared?
Why hadn’t I thought to put an assortment of balls in my van in case of this situation?
Maybe I’m not teaching him good enough social skills.
Maybe I should try to get him into that social group I turned down.
After thinking it through, I realized this wasn’t about me or what I could’ve done.
And it wasn’t about him or his social skills either.
It wasn’t even about Autism…
It was about differences and conformity,
about kindness and teaching our kids to be leaders.
If you’re a Bible believer, you know Jesus called you the light of the world. He said you couldn’t be hidden or blended in. People don’t light candles just to hide them. Further, Paul wrote specifically not to conform to the world and Peter reminds us that we’re a peculiar people who are set apart.
If you’re not a Bible believer, all you have to do is look at history. Anybody who did anything worth noting, was different, separate, against the grain. Gandhi faced war with words. Mother Teresa denied wealth and comfort. Albert Einstein spent his teen years studying instead of courting. Rosa Parks refused to follow arbitrary rules. The examples could go on and on. Important people in history didn’t follow the crowd like all those kids on the court did.
To make a difference, we have to be different…
We all want to make a difference. We all want to leave a legacy.
We all want our kids to do good.
If just one of those boys would’ve offered the ball to my son…
If just one girl would’ve said hello…
If just one child could’ve seen through the strange movements and odd sounds my son makes…
If just one…
I know those kids exist. We’ve met them.
We know the boy who greeted and hugged my son every day in Kindergarten.
We know the girl at the pool who shared her swim toy because she saw my son’s interest.
We know the birthday boy who let my son hit the pinata next to make sure he’d get a turn.
We know the teenager who took my son’s hand and led him to home plate so he could bat.
We know the brothers who taught my son to use the
We know the little girl who patted my son’s back when he was scared of the noise.
My son will inevitably be the “odd one out” in many more situations…
Will your son be the kind one?
Will your daughter be the leader?
I’m counting on you.
My son is counting on you.
Our community is counting on you.