Our Differences and “What Others ‘Think’”

 Leisa has a creative and artistic teen daughter with Autism.  She’s also made me aware of my new favourite term: “seminar slutting”…I’m so guilty of that!  Here’s Leisa’s story:

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in the dentist’s office waiting room. Grace, my teen daughter with autism, has been called back. I’m listening to the mostly unintelligible moans turned screams of an elementary school-aged boy, who, at the glance I stole when he dashed out the waiting room door into the hallway–a tired-looking, but patient older sibling following quickly behind him—has Down syndrome.

Places like this, when I am face-to-face with other parents perched on over-cushy sofas, waiting like me, I am confronted, as are many special needs parents in such times, with the perceived differences between my life and theirs.

Today I wonder, not for the first time, what they make of our lives. What do they think of my daughter? What do they think of me? Do they feel pity? Disgust? I don’t spend time caring enough, generally, to notice if they are staring or purposely staring the other way, though I’ve seen both enough to know it happens. Frequently. I cannot not notice. It’s often in my line of vision most places we go in public. My daughter’s autism is moderately severe. Her communication skills are fairly impaired. She’s beautiful. She’s happy. And obviously very different, which one would generally notice upon more than a 10 second glance.

I’m extremely grateful for the years I spent in therapy and for all my seminar slutting I did before Grace was diagnosed and since. One of the most helpful tools I ever came away with from the transformational weekend experience, More to Life, formerly called Life Training, which I did 20 years ago, is this take-home message:

We don’t really know what other people think. Sure, we can intuit. We can choose to obsess. But, what we think and obsess over may not even be real. Our intuitions may be off….Their mind may be so clouded with their own problems they don’t really notice the differently abled child in front of them. This is often the case. So is the other—noticing. In the end it comes down to me. (And, you–if you are in my position in any Life situation)….We cannot control what others think of us. Nor, really “should” we care. Sure, ideally, we live our lives with integrity and kindness, doing our best and ideally that is communicated to others through our words and actions. And that’s the best we can do. Others judge us? (Or not.) So what? Really.

The Buddhist teaching of just being Aware and then not attaching is something I’ve learned over the years in the meantime.  But starting out, I would pull out these questions I individualized from my Life Training [More to Life] experience for those times when it was my child was the one running down the hall or making unintelligible sounds….

These strangers that I think or I KNOW truly for sure are looking at us…They don’t know me. They don’t know this is autism. They don’t understand. They do not live my Life. And regardless, I don’t care what they think.

I don’t care what they think…because in the end it comes down to what I think of me. I’ve got enough baggage of my own with the sheer facts of Life, atop Autism. I don’t need anyone else’s…or anyone else’s presumed baggage crowding my mind.

And the father at the dentist’s office–the father of that little boy named Charlie, as I heard him called? He didn’t seem to care either. Good for him. It’s called Coping with the Journey. And it’s a fabulous and mandatory skill. There are far too many other hurdles on this ride requiring our spiritual, emotional, mental and physical energies. Carry on. Release the presumptions. Unpack your bags and as they warn you at the airport these days, don’t pick up anyone else’s luggage. Namaste.

Leisa A. Hammett is a speaker, advocate and author of  From Heartache to Hope: Middle Tennessee Families Living with Autism. She is working on her second book about autism and blogs at www.LeisaHammett.com  “The Journey with Grace: Autism, Art & All The Rest of Life.” In 2007, she appeared on the autism feature segment of ABC’s “The View,” which recognized her daughter’s art (www.GraceGoad.com).



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