The CDC recently reported that 1 in 59 children are living with autism.* For some, this may seem like a surprisingly staggering result. This news may even seem far removed; these children must not be here, in this town, where we live. But families like ours know better.
It’s true, children living with autism actually live near you. However, it’s also true that you may not have seen them. Because for many families of children “on the spectrum,” we are families in hiding.
We try to come out and join your ranks. We muster up our courage and attempt a store from time to time. Some days our children are successful with the stimuli of town and we are able to enjoy a taste of what it is like to take part in a family outing. Other times, we are less successful resulting in behaviors that cause others to stare as our courage quickly diminishes with every sideways glance and comments muttered under breath from people who simply do not understand.
One disastrous attempt to be a part of society can cause a special needs family to give up for a while. It’s all so real and all so raw. It’s just easier to stay home and find our normal and our happy away from the masses who are less than forgiving.
There are families in hiding in your community. They have almost forgotten what it is to be a part of a group of friends. Their children aren’t invited to parties. They cannot eat at restaurants. And with every failed attempt at finding a place within society, they shrink back and begin to wonder if it’s worth the heartache to try to belong.
Please understand, it’s not that we are trying to hide our special needs child away from the world. Our children are incredible and we would so love for you to see them as we do. It’s that often times, the world hides itself away from us. The world offers us glimpses of what it might be like to join in and even offers an obligatory invitation, but the world does not stand ready or equipped for families like ours.
So with every joke made at the expense of our child, with every parent who nudges their child to “go play with someone else,” with every school administrator who isn’t willing to believe in our child, with every church who has to apologize because they just “don’t have anywhere for your child to go,” and every store employee who stares and shows frustration when our children struggle in public…we shrink back into the safety of our homes.
What is the average person to do? How can you possibly reach out to special needs families who are in hiding?
When we can’t come to you, come to us.Our children are most successful in their own environment. They thrive on schedule, routine, and familiarity. You must understand that disability ebbs and flows. There have been times over the last eight years that our son is doing extremely well and there have been times where for his safety and the safety of others, we cannot leave the house. Trust us as parents to know these limitations.
It is because of this “ebb and flow” that our dearest friends come to us. We have bible study, we fellowship, we eat together, we laugh, and we cry together. It’s not flashy, but it’s so very fulfilling. They meet us right where we are at. They get down in the trenches of life with us.
Family members, don’t allow your feelings to be hurt when we cannot come to your family dinner or if we do not visit often. We would love for you to come join the beautiful mess that is often our home. It’s not that we don’t care or that we don’t desire connection, it’s that we can’t. Please come to us.
A little means more than you will ever know.You have no idea what an encouraging note, text message, phone call, or dinner made will mean to a family of a special needs child. Let them know that you are thinking of them. Share something about your day with them. Give us a connection to the outside world. Let us know we have not been left behind in your mind.
We have a nephew who periodically will draw a picture or write a letter to our son who has autism. Every time this happens I get choked up. They remembered us. They remembered our son. Our son proudly places the letter next to him while he plays with his trains. He knows and it’s important to him.
Let a special needs family know that you care, you notice them, and that their family has value.
It’s our job as special needs parents to never give up. We must keep trying to make a way for our children in the world. But the truth is, we could use your encouragement, understanding, and your friendship. That is what gives us the courage to come out of hiding to try again and again, until the world is ready to accept us.
*CDC Data: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
First Written for My Partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church http://irresistiblechurch.org/families-in-hiding/