Monday, June 27, 2011

What I Would Have Said

I could be making assumptions, but unfortunately, I don't think I am.

I have an acquaintance who has a son a little bit younger than Ethan. We don't know each other well and I've had a limited number of interactions with her son, but after observing him just a bit, my ASD radar went up. I think other autism moms will understand. You just know. Not that I'm a developmental pediatrician, but in my head I wondered if he had maybe PDD-NOS.

This certain friend and I became friends on Facebook, and that very day I noticed her posting about her son starting Birth to 3. This happened to be just a few days after Ethan had aged out of Birth to 3, and I was still feeling very sentimental and wanting to sing their praises, so I (probably foolishly) wrote her a Facebook email just telling her briefly about Ethan's experiences with Birth to 3 and wondering if they were going with the same provider. I never out and out asked what was wrong with her son, and I figured since she was posting about in on Facebook, she must be open to talking about it.

I never heard back from the email. Eeek, I kept thinking, because I'm one who really fears making social gaffes. I shouldn't have brought it up. I tried to tell myself that maybe she just wasn't good with email, but something inside me knew better.

Months went by, and I continued to have brief interactions with this person and her son. One time I overheard her talking about her son's "sensory issues," but she never sought me out personally in any way. If anything, she seemed a little more distant or shy or whatever, but I told myself that was my overactive imagination.

Until a few weeks ago, when I ran into Ethan's favorite Birth to 3 therapist in Target, of all places. Apparently after leaving Ethan his core group of therapists were all assigned to another case in a nearby town. "Facebook is so funny," she was saying. "We try to keep all of our cases confidential, and I was telling Theresa (another therapist) about something you posted about Ethan on Facebook in front of this new mom, when her eyes widened and she said she knew what we were talking about -- that she'd read the same post, because she was friends with you, too."

This is how I found out that after Ethan, his therapists had indeed traveled to the home of my acquaintance and her son, and provided services for several months until he turned three, and that she knew that they had been Ethan's therapists, and yet she had never said a word to me about it.

The other day I arrived at the mall play area with both Anna and Ethan in tow. Neither was in the mood to play, and in fact Ethan was being rather difficult. I looked over and, lo and behold, this mom was there with her little boy. Maybe we'll get to chatting! I thought, but then thought better of bringing anything up.

Turns out, that didn't matter, because literally two minutes after we arrived, I saw this mom go and lead her son off the play mountain he'd been climbing on. She said a quick goodbye and scooted out of there.

Maybe they really needed to go. Maybe they'd been there for awhile and the whole thing was a big coincidence. Only...I can't help but think there was another reason for her swift departure.

I drove home from the mall that day lost in my head. I felt both compassion and frustration. I realize everyone has different ways they process things. And some people would rather live as if the issue they are dealing with is going to go away. In this little boy's case, it very well might. I've noticed him in more recent weeks and can see the improvement. Maybe in fact this will all be a "phase" that he grows out of and they can move on as if all of the therapies didn't happen.

But if only I had been able to catch her ear. It's okay, I would have said. Do you want to talk? I would have encouraged her that her son is doing great, and that he seems like a very smart and creative little guy. I would have empathized with her about the quirky or sometimes (more in her child's case) aggressive things our kids do. I would have talked and listened.

There is a tiny part of me that wonders if this mom does not want to talk because she is afraid of me. And this hurts. I wonder if she looks at my son as a comparison point, a "at least he's not THAT autistic" reference. I wonder if Ethan and I are too real, too close to all of her fears.

Please don't be afraid, I'd tell her. And then I'd say, and am saying to myself: Sometimes holding back not only hurts us, but those around us. Sometimes we need to step out despite our fears, because someone needs us. Someone else might need to make a connection.


Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Maybe she just doesn't want to be apart of the club yet. Being still new to the dx, it has taken me lots of growth. I swear I hated the woman who dx my son! I didn't want to look at her and didn't care if I seen her ever again. Hopefully writing about it helps.

Deb said...

Anonymous, I know what you mean...I wrote about having an irrational dislike for the people who dx Ethan. I kept seeing them in my head for awhile, and would get such a bad taste in my mouth. I think these things are just part of the process...and I do think that's what this person is going through. I wish I could talk to her though to even encourage HER. I know where she's coming from, though....

Anonymous said...

Well all you can do is know that you are a good person and be ready if she ever needs to talk. I just find autism has so many painful aspects to it, not even concerning what our children have to go through, which is just heartbreaking on it's own. I still can't believe this is my life.