To the lovely lady who yelled out of her car window to point out that my children and I are able-bodied and just parked in a handicap space, I hope that you never need to use one.
My children live with an invisible disability called autism spectrum disorder. They may look neurotypical and healthy on the outside, but there is a lot going on inside of their beautiful minds. Their behaviors are sometimes a bit far-out and unpredictable to themselves, just as much as they are to the world around them. The blue placard hanging from my rear view mirror keeps them safe, and it gives me some semblance of security in a busy parking lot.
Depending on which way the wind blows that day, one of my neurodiverse offspring (or all three simultaneously) may have a meltdown. No, this is not a tantrum, although it definitely looks like one. A tantrum is when an outburst occurs when the person is trying to get something they need or want, and believe me, my children have had their fair share of these. A sensory meltdown is a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. This often occurs when there is a commotion in their environment, or too much sensory input, such as a change in their routine. Fight or flight kicks in at this point, and this is where the real action takes place.
My five-year-old daughter loves Target. She would live there if someone let her. Honestly, who wouldn’t? She often throws tantrums when we are unable to make it on a day that she has decided that she’s going. If I’m lucky, she throws a fit, gets over herself, and says “Oh well, maybe tomorrow.” Other times, these tantrums trigger a sensory meltdown. She has a range of reactions at this point from screaming, hitting (herself and others), biting, smashing or throwing anything she can get her hands. Running away is the most dangerous of these since she has no sense of critical thinking skills at this point, and she can get seriously injured.
You guys, please try not to be so quick to judge when you see anyone walking out of a vehicle that is parked in an accessible space when you’re out and about. You only see what they choose to show you. The worse thing about finally coming to terms with your own condition or worse, your child’s, is someone trying to convince you that it doesn’t actually exist. Just because my children don’t communicate very much, does not mean that they do not understand, especially when someone is criticizing them. The rumor going around that people on the spectrum do not have empathy is completely untrue. Many times, they tend to feel too much, even though their facial expressions and behaviors appears contrary.
A Special Note From Michelle’s Son
My name is Ghage. I am 18 years old and I have High Functioning Autism. What this means is that I am very intelligent, but I have problems with social skills. My heightened intelligence allows me to remember things by reading through them once, and quickly at that. I am also very good at video games. Because of this, since I get used to the game’s quirks very easily, and I plow through it usually within a week or so. Overall, my intelligence has brought me the ability to get through life very easily, all things considered.
There is a catch, however, to me having Autism. My awkward social skills mean that I talk fast, often to the point of being unintelligible. I also have problems with change, often change as simple as my mom being late to pick me up or her going a different way than normal to a place while driving. I was also bullied at middle school because I had Autism, both from my peers and my superiors, though this changed with high school being online and College having my peers respect me for who I am. Overall, Autism has its benefits and quirks, but I am proud of having it since it makes me who I am, and I am pretty rad.
Michelle spends part of her day trying to figure out how to combine her two loves of homemade stationary and documentaries on Netflix. She spends the rest of her time single-momming it to her three children, advocating for disability rights and collecting tattoos (much to her kids’ dismay). You can also find her posting on NOMB’s Special Needs neighborhood page and scouring local snoball stands looking for the perfect vanilla orchid syrup/shaved ice combo.