April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s a month we are supposed to be aware of the children and adults in our life whom live in a world completely separate yet part of our own. Likely, those of you who are reading this are able to walk into the food store and adjust to bright lights and the sound of grocery cart wheels on pretty pavers lining the produce aisle. You are able to stroll along the boardwalk on a summer night and not only deal with the lights and noise, and sudden shifts of walking pace, but you can enjoy it all at the same time. You do not have to understand the details of an unknown social dynamic prior to your arrival. You roll with it, you smile, you find ways to naturally and at times un-naturally fit in. You don’t wince at blinding eye contact or questions that don’t make sense. You understand emotion without words even attached to them. You read facial clues, understand intonation, and you learn that it’s better to listen than to be heard. You are fully aware of every facet of your surroundings in such a way that it defines your personal space. You simply have the tools to live and live in an abundant way without sensory constraint and rules that need to be followed.
About six years ago, as I was leaving a theme park I quickly grew less fond of every time I visited (Sesame Place), I noticed a woman struggling with her son. It was the classic scene. She looked tired, so tired. She held his arm lovingly, yet firm with a desperation that almost she hoped others would see. I saw it. He was 9 or 10, his hands tightly covered his ears and he screamed and pulled away from her. She was embarrassed and others just looked. I wanted to smack them and I wanted to help her all at the same time. She was struggling to bring her son to the car because likely he couldn’t handle a theme park. Likely, he couldn’t handle his morning breakfast if it was served on a different colored plate than normal. As she rushed past me, weak and yet full of love for her son, she blurted out in a voice that was meant for all to hear…”Theme Parks are no good for autistic kids.” My heart ached so deeply for her. I knew in her mind she felt as though she was being judged. And the truth is…she was. Most people are ignorant and make quick assumptions that end up giving them the upper hand. “Her kid is freaking out. Too bad for her. My kid is behaving. I’m the better parent.” Like it or not, that’s who we are as humans. Soon after her grand proclamation intended to let others know that parenting wasn’t just the issue, she then met eyes with mine. I smiled as tenderly as I knew how and I hope desperately to this day that at that very moment she knew I felt her pain. I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I wouldn’t have offered advice or assistance, I wouldn’t have glared at others who were judging, or have given her a sympathetic and an “I’m sorry for you smile.” That’s the very last thing she needed. I chose instead to be strong and honor her as the mom she was at the moment. She was doing the best she could and that’s all any of us ever can do. Be the best person you can handling yourself with such integrity amidst scorn and judgment that it really won’t matter at all in the end.
I know autism. I know it so well. It’s informed my life’s work, it’s part of who I am as a parent, who I am as a yoga teacher, and who I am as a human. Autism has taught me that humans are beautiful. It has taught me that gifts are blessings and that they don’t always come in the form of star pitchers on the mound or record breaking 800 meter runners. That’s good, but it’s also kind of boring. Autism is so wonderfully unique to its chosen ones and more and more frequently we realize it’s a gift in and of itself. Some of the most meaningful moments in my life, not even conversations, have been with children who live in this silent and frustrating world. It’s the moment I can look in a child’s eyes and feel a soul connection that goes beyond the telling of a joke or a sharing of conversation. These children, they feel, they understand vibrational energy in such a way that we can’t help but to feel the transference of their power and individuality and it miraculously connects with our own.
As I reflect back to the mom I made that short connection with several years ago, I understand that she was only able to connect with me because she practices daily to connect with her son. She sensed me, I sensed her. We held each other’s space for just a moment, but that’s all that was needed. The moment. Look for the moments in your life, in your conversations with others, and certainly with the “differently-abled” children in your life to vibrationally connect with. Because just as I recall the fleeting 15 second connection I made with a woman who impacted my heart more than she’ll ever know, you too will have that opportunity. A moment is simply a moment. So slow down and allow them to find you.