When you have a child with autism you feel constant anxiety at everything new they face – beyond what you feel for a neuro-typical child. You want with every fiber of your being to make their adjustment to all that is new and different as smooth as possible. Unfortunately when it comes to autism, nothing is ever easy.
Visions of your sweet little child sitting alone during recess and lunch force their way into your head several painful times a day. Sometimes it seems they don’t even notice until they say – while looking anywhere except into your eyes – that nobody sits with them and they don’t know why.
Giovanni, 8, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, participated in this video on bullying. Article continues after this video.
Autism mum Leah was feeling exactly this way at the prospect of her son starting middle-school (when children are aged 11-13 in the US) until a school-mum-friend sent her a photo with the message, “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son.”
Leah wrote about it on the Autism Speaks Facebook page:
Now that I have a child starting middle school, I have feelings of anxiety for him, and they can be overwhelming if I let them. Sometimes I'm grateful for his autism. That may sound like a terrible thing to say, but in some ways I think, I hope, it shields him. He doesn't seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn't seem to notice that he doesn't get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn't seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It's one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it's nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn't seem to mind. He is a super sweet child, who always has a smile and hug for everyone he meets. A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption "Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son" I replied "who is that?" He said "Florida State Seminoles Football player", then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State University, and several other Florida State Seminoles players visited my sons school today. I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I'm happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life! ~Leah
At least this autism mum was given one day of relief from the worry and the angst over her gorgeous little boy being alone. Perhaps he is the one who chose to sit away from the group. Maybe they chose not to sit with him.
Whatever the case, the solution seems simple.
Educate people about Autism Spectrum Disorder. Teach them how to spot it and how to reach out to those who are forever socially trapped in their own minds. Don't expect eye contact, handshakes and belly laughs. Any sort of response, regardless of how subtle, is the equivalent of instant bonding in the neuro-typical world.
It's what we all want for our spectrum children, understanding and compassion. Companionship instead of loneliness.
Read through some of the comments by autism parents on the Autism Speaks Facebook page and have a conversation with your child when they get home from school today: