8 Subtle Ways People Discriminate Against My Autistic Son

flickr / Levi Walton
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What is the worst discrimination you have received as a special needs parent?

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I’m lucky, because I haven’t really received too much discrimination in general as a parent of a special needs kid. So many families have it worse than me. I need to preface my answer with this, for perspective, because I know on the whole, my little family and I have it good.

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The worst discrimination I’ve received as a special needs parent hasn’t come from strangers, it’s come from people close-ish to me. Generally good, kind people. People who are mostly well-meaning. It comes in the form of attempting-to-be-tactful exclusion. People who will invite my 2 oldest kids for a playdate, then add (as an afterthought) that my youngest is welcome too, of course, but very carefully make no mention of my third child.

A party invitation will arrive for one of the older 2, and a scribbled note will invite the other older son as well, even if the child whose party it is is actually a peer to my autistic son. Parent acquaintances will do the almost-invite to me, “We’re going to X on Sunday with Y families … I’d ask you to join us, but I know it’d be too hard for you with M3.” Sure, I could do the blithely innocent rejoinder and say, “No, actually, that sounds great and like something he’d love!” and they’d fumble through a very half-hearted invitation, but honestly, if we’re not wanted, I don’t want to be there.

It’s difficult, with autism in the unique form that my son has, because on the outside, he doesn’t look any different from any other child. And sometimes, he doesn’t seem to be different either if you are simply observing him. He’s also always been very big and tall for his age, which makes his occasional meltdowns very difficult for bystanders to swallow. They assume he’s a big kid who should know better, and that I’m a lazy, indulgent, bad parent who just lets him freak out. They make comments directly to me or loudly near me. They talk to their kids in that way that parents without empathy do, using him as a loud example of why they don’t want their kids to X or Y.

Otherwise, the other situations I’ve had to deal with over the years while out and about are:

  • Being asked to leave a play area because his loud crying (when I told him he needed to share) was upsetting other parents.
  • Having other parents at playgrounds tell their children not to play with him because he seemed different (He follows other kids happily around, but sometimes too closely for social norms, etc.).
  • Frequently, people handing out samples or free items refusing to give him one because he wouldn’t say please when prompted (Aside from his speech delay, he also struggles with directions, so sometimes directing him to say or do something will cause him to absolutely refuse, etc.).
  • People cursing at me/us if he suddenly freezes while we’re walking in a common space and I need to crouch down near him or pick him up and move him to the side to figure out what’s happened.
  • Generally noticing that friends are gathering without us, which could be any number of reasons (Also now, as a single mom, this makes me somewhat of a pariah amongst families I know), but also tends to overlap with the ones who exclude him from birthday invites while making sure his 3 siblings are welcome. It’s hard sometimes, but I try to tell myself that these people just don’t know. That they’re afraid of the unknown, and it’s upsetting and therefore off-putting for them.
  • Some even think they’re doing me a favor by keeping me out of situations they think might be stressful or awkward for me. I don’t know. What I do know is that my son is one of the happiest, most loving people I have ever met, and that every single person who refuses to get to know him or avoids having him near them is missing out. He loves unconditionally and enthusiastically, he is eager to please, and he has a fantastic sense of humor and fun about him.

Alecia is an accomplished writer who has been published by Forbes, the Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, and more. See more of her Quora posts here:

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