“I’m sorry. She has autism.”
How many times over the years have I articulated those words in front of my daughter? How many thousands of times have I said those two sentences in front of my listening child? How many times have I devalued and demeaned Mia as she sat there knowing full well that my utterance was about her; that her actions were a painful source of embarrassment for me. I can’t even begin to total the amount of times those words have past my parted lips.
Those five words are now enough to make me sick to my stomach. Individually the two sentences are fine, but grouped together in that order, for that statement, they weigh heavy on my heart. The “I’m sorry” being a particular point of pain for me.
I’ve stopped uttering those words to every gaping man my daughter and I pass. I’ve stopped uttering those words to every woman whose judgmental gaze stabs my heart and pierces my soul. I’ve stopped uttering those words to senior citizens whose unqualified and unreserved expressions make me want to curl up in a ball and die. I’ve stopped uttering those words to masses of the coldhearted, to hoards of the inconsiderate, to throngs of shameless gawkers.
For years I allowed my daughter to be branded with a huge “A” on her chest; her very own scarlet letter. I felt that if I gave an explanation for her behavior in the midst of judgment I would be given a lesser sentence in the court of popular opinion. I felt that if I gave an explanation people would better understand and stop giving her, giving me, dirty looks. I wore my daughter’s autism on my chest; an always present badge, pleading my case to both judge and jurors alike. I’d cry out for mercy. “Hi. My name is Kimberly. Please forgive my daughter’s outbursts. She knows no better. She has autism.” Even after my solid “defense” the verdict was always unanimous: Bad mother. Control your child.
That was when I realized that all of the people with their heartless hateful stares will not be persuaded to understand, or accept, because of those five little words. They will not be inclined to offer to Mia a kind smile or me an understanding look; if it were in their nature they would have done that first. I realized that all of those people are the ones who are wrong; the ones who are flawed. Mia is not flawed for having autism. Mia is not wrong for stimming in public. Mia is not wrong for making noise. Mia is not flawed. Mia is never wrong for being herself. They are the wrong. They are the flawed. They are the ignorant and the judgmental. They are the ones who should be embarrassed. Not I. Not ever. And surely not Mia.
I made a solemn vow over a year ago to never allow those words to escape my body again. I made a solemn vow over a year ago to smile kindly at the callous judgmental persons, knowing full well that I stand firm on a higher ground. I made a vow over a year ago to seek justice for my daughter – justice not in the court of popular opinion, but justice in dignity. And the only way I can give that justice to her is by holding my head high and showing her that she too should hold her head high for all to see; even if it is being thrown back and forth in a much needed stimming motion.