Don’t look at my son like that!

I hate “that look”…if you’re a parent (especially a father) of a special needs child…you know what I’m talking about.

This has been a busy summer for our family…a great summer for my children, getting to be with family and friends and especially cousins…they love their cousins.

My 6-year-old son with autism has really had a great summer.  He attends summer school and loves that–he’s been going to school pretty much year-round since he was the age of three…that might sound a little mean, not to give a kid a summer break, but with early intervention and solid reinforcement and ABA therapy, he’s happy and improving with his verbalization and socialization.  William loves being around his cousins and so having a few family vacations mixed into his busy summer school schedule is quite a treat for him.

This past weekend we were able to join my side of the family on an extended weekend in the Texas Hill Country to hang out on the Blanco River and all be together.  He did a fantastic job!  His cousins are mostly girls and a few years older and, together with my very strong-willed 4-year-old daughter, they keep him very involved.  It brings me great joy to see him being around his cousins because he is just one of the bunch.  He doesn’t have the typical friend relationships because he doesn’t really interact with other children.  He doesn’t sit in a corner or anything like that when other children are around–he’ll be near the action–but he’s not really part of the action.

During our vacation we took everyone to a swimming hole that was a ton of fun!  It’s in a state park where there are huge trees, river access, tubing and the all-important rope swings.

Now my son is not one to really be adventurous.  I don’t know if he’s afraid of things, maybe just a bit cautious.  This is his first year to really enjoy swimming–thanks to 6-8 months of swimming lessons–and while he’s mostly a dog paddler, it’s very freeing for me and my wife to not have him either stand on the side while everyone else is in the water, or cling onto us in the water for dear life.

So back to this rope swing…so much fun!  They had one just for children and the line was long to enjoy it.  Kids would grab it and swing into the very chilly water of the river and do it over and over and over again.

I was just happy William was in the water–it was really cold and for those of you who have seen William, he’s a string bean with very little meat on his bones to keep him warm.

I had no thoughts of William ever wanting to attempt the rope swing, but when I causally asked him, imagine my surprise when he not only said, “YES” but got out and headed right over to it.

For the next 3+ hours that’s about all he did…it was fantastic!  He would climb up the little ladder, grab the bar on the rope and hold onto it and swing into the water.  He didn’t hold on very long most of the time–so it was like he was jumping into the water–but it was a thrill to see him be a “typical child” and get so excited to be doing what all the other children were doing.

So I was pumped up!

Then came “that look” (and you thought this was just going to be a blog where I gushed praise and joy…nope)

There I was, helping him stand in line (not easy) and get a hold of the bar of the swing.  His cousins and other family members were taking pictures and just having a great time enjoying that he was having a great time.

As we were standing in line he was shivering and flapping.  He still flaps when he gets excited and he was not only really excited but he was probably really cold because the water was cold and there was a wonderful tree canopy.  So as we were standing in line shivering and flapping I noticed two younger boys staring at him and snickering to themselves.

These boys were probably 8 to 10 years old if I had to guess.  They were also enjoying the rope swing…and they were enjoying noticing that my son wasn’t typical.

Here I was, on Cloud Nine because my son was doing something daring and brave, he was having this fantastic time and I was so proud of him…and yet I was crushed.

That look…you all know what it is don’t you?  Maybe you don’t see it directly but you certainly can feel it when you’re out in public and your child is doing something that’s reserved for our Special-Ism Children.  That look.

I wanted to push those boys into the cold river water.  I wanted to get into their 8-year-old faces and give them a piece of my mind.  I wanted to defend my precious boy, whom I love and am so proud of for all the progress he’s making.  I wanted to cry, scream, fight…everything.

I did nothing.

As I stood there, William flapping and making his inaudible noises, the boys giving that look and snickering at one another about how William was behaving, I just stood there…taking it all in.

Just like that cold river water, the splash in face of cold reality just crushed me.  The reminder that my son isn’t “typical.”  That he’s not just one of the boys.  That he is going to probably stand out in many situations for the rest of his life.

So on this day of joy and gladness…it was also a time of reality and sorrow…and that sucked.

What should I have done?  What should you do when you get “that look”…what have you done in the past?  Here are a few thoughts…I’d love to hear your opinions on what I should’ve done…

1. Ignore…easier said than done but I can’t go through life with a huge chip on my shoulder about my son.  I can’t be there to defend him from those looks and snarky whispers.  So maybe we just ignore?  Ehhh…that’s hard

2. Confront…I almost did that.  I almost tapped those boys on their shoulders and gave them a piece of my mind.  Not that I would’ve really gotten onto them,but maybe I would’ve gently informed them of William’s situation and how they should be celebrating his accomplishments like the rest of us

3. Make a scene…again, would that have accomplished anything?  One of my concerns about making a bigger deal out of it was that I didn’t want to put a damper on William’s experience.  Although he doesn’t talk much and oftentimes doesn’t appear to be paying attention–I KNOW that he would’ve understood what was going on and I don’t want for him to be more and more aware that he’s not “typical”…that he’s different from others.

4. Removed ourselves from the situation…but why?  Why should my son be punished and removed from a fun situation just because others are making fun of him or commenting about his actions and behavior?  I’m glad I didn’t do that.

5. Blog about it…bingo!  That’s what happened.  SO here I am, expressing my sorrow and frustration…but was that the right thing to do?

I know I can’t be there for my son every time someone gives him “that look.”  Maybe he doesn’t care if people are looking at him like that.  Maybe he doesn’t even know they’re looking at him like that.  Maybe it’s all on me.

Whatever it was, it was an incident that still sticks in my brain.  There we were, having a great time–and we still had a great time–playing, experiencing, participating, enjoying…and yet there’s always that little reminder that our children aren’t quite the same.

Anyone have any thoughts?  Would love to hear

To read more blogs from Seth and TheFowler4Group, check out their Website (www.lookatmyeyes.com) and while you’re there, buy a copy of their book, “Look At My Eyes”.  Or find them on YouTube.  To contact TheFowler4 Group email: info@thefowler4group.com…oh and they just released their book in SPANISH as well…buy it now!

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7 responses to “Don’t look at my son like that!

  1. Yes. “The look.” It always kills me. Plus the fact that an 8 year old has the power to kill me with that look.

  2. thanks for reading and commenting. Check us out on FB: Look at my eyes and Twitter: @fowler4group and keep in mind our book is now available in Spanish http://www.lookatmyeyes.com

  3. I know the look, and have faced it for 14 years (my daughter is 16). When she was 6 and we were at Disney World waiting in line for a ride I was thinking how great she was doing, A parent next to us told her child to stand still. The child said , “:that girl isn’t!”. and the mom said to me: “there’s one in evey croud” I was crushed – and still am hurt 10 years later. I should have said to her: ‘ No, there is one in 250 (that was then) and if this bothers you I’d be happy to accept your donation to NAAR (National Alliance for Autism Research).’ The next year we went to Disney and i brought my home made cards: Why is this child behaving this way?. I handed them out to people who gave me that look.

  4. I totally understand your feelings.I have a 13 yr. old son.He is Autistic as well.I get “The Look” all the time and it makes me sad,angry,and just plain helpless.When I see other children doing this I just try in the most polite way to inform the kids about his differences and try to just introduce him to the kids.Most of the time I can see the shame come across their little faces and hope something I said sticks with them.I think alot of parents don’t teach tolerance enough.It starts very early.What really gets me is when a full grown should know better adult does it.

  5. that’s a great idea…I wrote a blog a while back about the t-shirts I wanted to create that said stuff like “he’s just autistic and I’m going to beat the hell out of you” or something like that…those things just sting a parent.

    Thanks for reading! Follow us on FB and Twitter!

  6. totally…I can get over the kid doing it but the adult…makes me want to fight…and that’s probably not the right thing to do. But it also kills me that I know I’ve given “that look” to other children and I’m sure i’ve crushed parent’s spirits and that makes me sad

    Thanks for reading…follow us on FB: Look At My Eyes and Twitter: @fowler4group and tell everyone!

  7. Leslie Nicholas

    Thank you for writing this I related on so many levels especially the crushing revelation that my son will probably always stand out and be given “the look” for the rest of his life. I don’t know which makes me more angry, getting “the look” from other children or adults. We were at a science center and my son who was 11 at the time rose his hand like the other kids to answer a question. It was a pretty easy question and I think he got nervous and hesitated. When he finally answered, a man in the audience rudely said, “Well yeah, very good DUH!” I saw him crumble a little but told him he did a good job. It’s a challenge keeping my faith in humanity with a special needs child.

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