Autism awareness very real for us

Published 12:57 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

She was having a jabbering moment. Maybe she was repeating something from a commercial or phrases from a television show. Sometimes she replays scenes from programs she watched years ago. I don’t remember exactly what she was saying, but she was saying it loudly.

As we made our way through the store, she got a little louder and added some jumping up and down into the mix. This grabbed the attention of a child whose mother was shopping near us.

I put my hand on my daughter’s arm and with my other hand, I put a finger on my mouth sending her a message to be a little less loud. She smiled stopped jumping and jabbering for a minute and came to stand beside the grocery cart.

The child continued to stare at my daughter. In fact, she turned completely around and walked backwards staring. Her mother was oblivious to what was going on as she continued filling her cart.

I did my best to simply ignore the girl because staring is often part of shopping with someone like my daughter who has autism. However when we got closer to the mother and daughter, the staring intensified to the point of being uncomfortable.

I want to stop here and explain something to people not familiar with autism. Just because it seems people with autism are not paying attention to what is going on, it doesn’t mean they are not aware of you and what’s happening around them.

I knew my daughter knew the child was staring at her because she moved in close and kind of leaned into me putting her hand on my shoulder. I put my arm around her and gave her a little hug.

By this time, the child’s mother was a almost an aisle length ahead of us and the child was still facing backward with her mouth hanging open and her eyes locked on my daughter. As we walked up beside her, I couldn’t take it another minute.

“She has autism,” I said to the girl.

I don’t know if what I said registered in any way because all she did was blink at me, and give my daughter another long look. Then she turned around and joined her mother, who still was oblivious to what was happening. I took my daughter’s hand and headed my cart in the opposite direction.

Later that day, I got a call from someone wanting to send me information about autism awareness along with an envelope to make a contribution to some organization I’d never heard of. I politely told the woman she was welcome to send me information, but I had a pretty good understanding of autism awareness since my 25-year-old daughter who has ASD was sitting next to me at the moment.

She was silent, then thanked me and hung up. I don’t think I’m getting anything in the mail.

I thought about these instances as I read posts on Facebook about Autism Awareness Month, which comes in April. Funny, how different awareness months feel when they touch you personally.

I also read a post from a mother in Enterprise thanking the people in a local store who were kind and helpful when her autistic son had a meltdown, something we know about at my house.

That, I thought, is the kind of awareness people with autism and their families need. They need folks to be kind, to show understanding, to ask how they can help if a situation calls for help.

I have to give a shout out to our local businesses because over the years many of their employees showed so much kindness to my child. They will always have a special place in my heart.

One more thing, if you are shopping with a child who is staring at someone behaving in a different way, take a moment to help that child understand what she is seeing. I’m always happy to explain and do my part to advance autism awareness.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.