Autism, parenting, and feeling judged

I saw a woman at the gym today that I *really* wanted to avoid.

I used to see her a lot when Matthew was small. It seemed she was always there when he was bolting away from me at the grocery store, the swimming pool, the park. She watched me as I tackled Matthew before he wandered into the street, and while I tried defuse big bad meltdown. She was always sitting right behind us in church while Matthew flapped and tapped and giggled. Her pale blue eyes followed us everywhere and her frown was constant.

I wove my way around the exercise bikes and ducked behind the magazine rack to avoid the woman, and then ran smack into her in front of the drinking fountain. She was wearing that frown that I remembered well, and her eyes bored into me in such a way that I couldn’t pretend to avert her gaze.

“You look familiar,” she said, cocking her head. No kidding I look familiar. “Did our kids go to school together or something?”

“Maybe,” I countered innocently, “I think we may have seen each other at the pool.”

“Of course!” she said smiling, her frown softening ever so slightly.  “You had that adorable boy. I remember he had…issues.”

I told her that Matthew had autism, that some years had been better than others, but that Matthew was 26 now and doing so well.

“I’ll never forget the day he climbed to the top of the batting cage during a little league game,” she said, shuddering, ” he was teetering around and you climbed up like it was nothing and carried him down.”

We burst out laughing and went on to talk about how her children were doing, the ones I never got to know because I was so sure their mother was evil. What a waste! Here was this really nice and compassionate woman who I assumed was judging me when in reality she was just curious. And concerned. Even now when she was laughing with me she was frowning. She was a frowner, not a judger!

As we parted ways, I thought about all of the other people over the years that I had judged–and avoided– because I assumed they were judging me.

So the next time you think some one is judging you, take a step back. They might just be admiring you.

***

READ Laura’s awesome book A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM

Follow her autism blog at SFGATE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Laura Shumaker is a nationally recognized writer, autism and disabilities advocate. Her essays have appeared in many places, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR, and in a popular autism and disabilities blog for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s the mother of three terrific sons, and her oldest son, Matthew, is the subject of her book A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism.

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