The other day, Casey said something that jolted my insides. He was frustrated by his inability to connect with some of Carter’s friends. I believed it was more Younger Brother Syndrome than his autism. He was venting about that and about school. Finally, exasperated at trying to tell me what was bothering him, he put his head down and mumbled, “They ignore me.”
Oh my heart. I hadn’t even thought about it. I hadn’t even made the connection to all of the many terrible times I had said to Carter or Peyton, “He’s having a tough time, just ignore him,” as Casey raged and said things he didn’t mean. I had taught my kids to ignore their autistic brother.
Then I imagined all of the times well meaning teachers had probably said the same thing about Casey at school when he was having a tough time or stimming. “Just ignore him.” The kids learned to not stare at Casey when he was freaking out, but in so doing, they also, simply, learned to ignore him. To tune out his noises, his stories, his joys…him.
Casey is not always ignored, of course. We have wonderful neighbors and he has an amazing team of teachers and the kids in his class are great. Kids are born wanting to be helpful. They are innately accepting. It isn’t until they are taught, whether we mean to or not, to not be accepting. It happens accidentally in times where we are well meaning.
I never wanted my kids or the kids around Casey to be afraid of him. I never wanted them to think that he means the things he says when he’s mad or that he’s weird because of the things he does to self soothe or because of his intense interest in a couple of subjects.
What it comes down to, is that Casey is an amazing kid. His autism is apart of who he is and will forever be. If I’m going to ask that people accept him, it means all of him. To not just ignore the parts that are different. To understand that when he’s upset, he doesn’t mean what he says and he’s working on it. That stimming serves a purpose and shouldn’t be discouraged and it’s not wrong to watch or even join in with him. Sometimes, it’s terribly fun.
Just, please, don’t ignore him.