When we travel my son wears a t-shirt that says “Autism is my Super Power.” He has no clue what it says or what it means. To him it is just a blue T-shirt with cool lightening bolts on it.
He has no idea that it is so much more than a T-shirt. It is a plea. It is a public service reminder for patience and kindness and grace. It is a gentle nudge in the direction of considering the people you encounter in the course of a day. Remembering that a single glimpse of a person is only a single glimpse.
The t-shirt is a plea. It is my plea. My plea to show us kindness. To be patient with us when it takes us an few extra minutes to get through security because our son does not understand why he cannot carry his beloved ducky through. To send compassion rather than judgment our way when my son makes loud noises or wiggles in his seat. To remember as we walk past you to board in the pre-board line for travelers with disabilities that not all disabilities are on the surface. My son is not in a wheelchair. If you glance quickly you may not see a disability at all. But the extra time ahead of other passengers helps my son to work through some of his airplane wiggles. It satisfies his rigidity and underlying need to be “first”. It gives my husband and I time to get our bearings. Do not judge us for going ahead of you. Instead, spend your energy being thankful that you are not the family boarding in the disability pre-board.
I put my son in his autism t-shirt because it helps to make our travel day easier. It helps me to feel as though we are creating awareness. Awareness to my son’s autism. But mostly awareness to the fact that every single person is walking a journey that we may not see. That we may not understand. And there may not always be a t-shirt or a neon flashing sign to call out the need for extra kindness and compassion.
Lead with kindness. I say this all of the time. Give kindness first. Before judgements or second guessing. Before speculation or assumptions. Before first impressions or opinions. Not because it is the easiest thing to do, but because it is always the right thing to do.
I can only imagine what we must look like out in public sometimes. We follow very rigid patterns. We speak in simple directives. We are kind of like passengers on a plane; acutely aware of the restrooms and the exits and prepared for an emergency landing if needed.
We are usually looking in twenty directions at one time. Especially if there is a body of water or bouncy house anywhere in our vicinity. Two things we know for certain: water is his jam, and waiting in a bouncy house line is not.
We usually leave places quickly and without notice. Sometimes we are exercising our ability to sense a meltdown coming and leaving before it fully erupts. Other times we ignored the signals and are paying for it as we hurriedly pack and bolt.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that we choose to live our life out in the world. And sometimes it is not super graceful. And sometimes people look at us. Sometimes they roll their eyes. Sometimes they pre-judge. And sometimes putting my son in his autism t-shirt helps to minimize all of that.
This journey is full of a million choices. And a million things that we have no choice in at all. I am certain that there is no perfect way to “do autism.” There is no “nailing it.” There is just walking this journey one day at a time. Accepting the non-choices and responding with the best choices at your disposal in any given moment.
Some days I actively choose not to put him in the T-shirt. Maybe it is my way to take the temperature of the world. Is the world any kinder or more accepting than the last time we ventured out? Maybe it is the need deep inside of me to appear like any other family. Or the most likely option, maybe it has been a busy week and the t-shirt is still in the dirty clothes hamper.
This is my long winded way of reminding you to be kind. To lead with kindness. To teach the little people in your life to lead with kindness too.
Kindness starts with awareness. Pay attention to the people you encounter. Look for opportunities to show compassion. To reserve judgment. Maybe even to offer a helpful hand.