The weather outside is glorious. So you capitalize on it and pop out to get some fresh air with your child.
Outdoors is their happy place.
The place where they can be free to run, and play, and holler, and giggle.
The place where volume isn’t a factor, and you’ve not a care in the world. You can just “be”.
For many individuals with Autism, just like our five year-old son Beckett, outdoors is a safe space.
And one of the only true places that we get to witness the beautiful miracle of our non-verbal child letting his little guard down.
Where I get to see him be himself. Where he is indeed his most expressive. Most vocal.
It’s the most beautiful thing.
Inside or out, you can hear our sweet boy for a distance, when he is excited, happy, “stimming”, or even upset.
But those sounds are how he communicates, in a world where words fail him.
Those sounds are how he lets us know his feelings, his wants, and his needs.
Imagine, blissful, in your non-verbal, autistic child’s safest surrounding, your HOME…
And a neighbor writes an anonymous complaint, trying to take their voice away.
For one California family in El Dorado Hills today, that is very much their reality.
Their 6-year-old daughter is non-verbal and on the Autism Spectrum.
The family was given a complaint in the form of a letter, surrounding their daughter, stating that her time outdoors is making it difficult for them to work from home.
“It’s very hurtful to read”, the mother said, in response.
The letter is lengthy, and detailed, and goes on to say,
“…as you may or may not be aware, many of us are being affected by your daughter’s long periods of shrieking”.
And though the letter includes a comment attempting to convey empathy, it is quickly replaced by the following:
“…we are quite disturbed by this as it has a very real impact on our peace and quiet, as well as enjoyment of our backyards”.
I put my family in these all too familiar shoes. And my heart breaks.
I can’t imagine the ache that mother felt, reading a letter meant to quiet her already all-too-silenced daughter.
What about her child’s enjoyment?
What about her child’s feelings and expression?
Where are they free to be themselves, if not within the walls of their own home?
Though children like ours may not have words, they feel; An incredible amount, and all at once.
Though they may not communicate in the same way as some, they are smart, and observant.
On every outing we took before this current pandemic hit, we were overjoyed with each opportunity; with each “request”.
Each place we could venture through was ultimately a “goal” met, for our Beckett.
Many places are too bright, or too noisy, or simply overstimulating.
So we take our time, and feel out each place accordingly. Slowly.
We go frequently, if a place (store, restaurant, etc.) works in his favor.
And we leave, (even if mid-meal, or mid-shop) if it is proving too much for him that day.
We try again another time.
We put in the work, because inclusion is everything. And not something that should have to be “earned”.
The amount of practice it takes for our son, to comply with walking safely, holding hands, following directions, is immeasurable.
Everything is a goal, and takes a lot of hard work and patience. On all of our parts.
And there is no such thing as a “small victory”.
We celebrate every milestone met.
And though we mind our own, and work hard to simply get from “A to B” safely, teaching along the way, we still see the faces, and smirks, and “eye rolls”.
We hear the breathy, whispered, judging comments made in our son’s direction.
They don’t see the effort and hard work, and struggle it takes.
They don’t see the frustration and fear, and anxiety it brings.
They don’t see the joy beaming behind each shout, or laugh, or shriek.
They only see “noise”. And nuisance.
“(Shouts and noises) are a way for her to get out her energy and for her to relax. These noises calm here’, the girl’s Mother said.
‘There’s a whole world people don’t see as parents like us experience day-to-day.”, she continues.
And I feel that in my soul.
If only those hurtful neighbors could understand how much time, and money, and energy has been spent just to achieve those “shrieks”.
How proud we are for every sound.
If only onlookers could see the tears some families cried, for the loss of words at a young age, from regression that set in.
Or the tears of joy, when their child makes a sound that they weren’t sure they ever could, as they have conditions like “Apraxia” that inhibits motor function.
Or the answered prayer in every high-pitched squeak, within families, like ours, that didn’t know if their child would make it past their first day on earth.
Every single sound made is a celebration of life.
A work of art.
It may not resemble the life that you know for yourself, but it is a glorious, gifted life, nonetheless.
Before you judge, or turn to fear of differences; before you write an anonymous complaint, or stare, or cause a scene, just know that families like this one from California, families just like ours, are basking in these wins.
I hope this world we live in soon becomes less fearful of that of a voice that sounds different.
Our special needs children will not be silenced to “fit a mold”, in a world that wants to change them.
They will share what they feel, just as you an me, in hopes that someone will truly hear them.
It is up to families like ours, and this little girl’s, to educate the masses.
To shine a loving light on differences, and normalize it.
It’s up to us as special needs parents to give our children’s thoughts and ideas “verbal wings”.
And it’s up to you to listen. Listen closely.