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Watch Your Words

It was a walk we’ve taken dozens of times since we moved here thirteen years ago, my sixteen-year-old severely autistic son and I. As usual Justin was a few steps ahead of me as I tried to lengthen my stride to keep up, and I had to smile. This was perfect Jenks boardwalk weather, low humidity, a lovely breeze, abundant sunshine. We were just about to leave the residential area of the boardwalk and pass the aquarium when an elderly woman passed us a few feet to our left, at which point Justin let out one of his vocal stims, just one, and not very loudly at all. A moment passed, and none of the families around us even looked at him. I was contemplating what to make for dinner when I heard it, and whirled around in disbelief.

“Shut up!” screamed the elderly lady in the black beach coverup at the top of her lungs, looking weighted down by her chair and bag, staring straight ahead so I couldn’t get a look at her face, just the back of her head. Rage and disbelief in equal measures engulfed me, and I yelled back “What did you say?!” to which she responded again, but halfheartedly, “Shut up!”.

God, there were so many things I wanted to say to her, but there were little kids all around us, and the teacher/mom in me won the battle of restraint.

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Instead of calling her names any good Jersey girl knows I told her to shut up, and screamed that she should be ashamed of herself.

Then I ran to catch up to Justin, absolutely fuming inside that this miserable excuse of a human being could intrude on one of our favorite places, could affect our sanctuary.

There were so many thoughts spinning in my head at that moment. This was only the third time in Justin’s entire life anyone had ever said anything mean to him, as the community we live in is so accepting of autism. I desperately wished another adult was with us so I could rush back to that woman, get in front of her and take her picture and plaster her all over Brick Shorebeat and the Point Pleasant Patch. I contemplated how good it would feel to go all “Cersei Lannister” on her and just intone “Shame, shame, shame” as I followed her back to whatever rock she’d crawled out from under.

I wanted to scream at her that for all his lanky height he is still a child, that she had no right to yell at him.

In the end I could do none of it, just try to keep up with my kid as we headed to our car.

There were so many things I wanted her to know.

I wanted to tell her that this child she was screaming at once wrapped his arms around his teacher after missing a week of school to Hurricane Sandy, and for two hours refused to let her go.

I wanted to tell her this “different” person she’d unleashed her invectives on could read at three.

I wanted to tell her my sweet boy at sixteen still loved to cuddle with me at night for his bedtime story and songs.

I wanted to tell her that before she died I could almost guarantee she’d know someone who’d have a child with autism. I hoped she’d never forget what she did today, and I hoped it would haunt her.

I wanted to tell her she’d picked the wrong mom to mess with, that my “autism tribe” doesn’t put up with this crap.

And as my breathing slowed and my heartrate slowly returned to normal, I wanted to tell her this.

I wanted to tell her that because of this wonderful community in which we reside, that she was negated, that she was nothing.

I would have liked to tell her about the man at Great Adventure this past weekend who asked if he could help us when we were having a rough moment with Justin.

I would have told her about POAC Autism services, how their trainings and events gave our boys someplace to go in the early years when outings were so difficult.

I would have shared with her how amazing the teachers, paras, principals and social workers in the Brick schools and at Search Day Program have been to our boys for the past thirteen years.

I would have told her about how kind our neighbors have been, that there is always a “hello” for our boy whether he responds or not.

I would have shared with her how unknown patrons at iHop had paid for our lunch on Mother’s Day, just to be kind.

I would have told her my son is a thousand times more loving, brave, intelligent, and gentle than she could ever be.

I would have told this coward, who didn’t have the courage to face me and hurl her epithets, that all this collective community kindness cancelled her out.

We finally made it back to our car, and my boy gave me a fleeting grin as he climbed into the backseat, as always asking for water (he is the most hydrated child on the planet). I thought about how far he’s come, and how far I’ve come too. I thought about the fact that ten years ago her invectives would have made me cry, but that now nothing could touch me, or ruin my time with my boy.

I hoped she wasn’t local and would leave us soon. If not, I’m telling autism families to beware.

And as we headed home, my boy rocking out to the eighties with absolute delight, I took a deep breath, and smiled.

For more on my family visit my blog at

Follow me on Facebook at Autism Mommy-Therapist

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