Growing Up Together

Several months ago, my children and I met some new friends. We had many things in common and so we planned a few outings for the children to get to know one another. After meeting several times, our friends came over to our house for a play date. The children played together. The other mother extended an invitation to their house to play in the future. Minutes later, however, the temperature between us had changed because my son’s meltdown scared one of her children.

A meltdown isn’t the same thing as a tantrum, for the record. If you’re unclear on the difference, there are many excellent articles already written on that subject.

We are fortunate that the meltdowns we experience as part of our son’s autism are not violent. Even so, experiencing a very loud meltdown can be alarming to a child who isn’t accustomed. We don’t punish our son for having meltdowns and all legitimate modern research on autism supports that approach. Instead, we work with him on trying to avoid triggers and also on picking up the pieces and moving on once a meltdown occurs.

After the play date, the other mother texted me to say that she felt that she needed to protect her children. She didn’t criticize my approach to navigating the meltdown but she did repeatedly reinforce her position that she feels it is her responsibility to protect her children. From mine.

I think she was coming from a place of love and I do agree that protection is one of the responsibilities of parenting. Still, it stung. It still stings.

The play date at their house never did materialize. I sent a text a week or so later inviting them on a hike but she didn’t respond and I haven’t heard from her since. I’ve been stewing on this for a couple of months now.

It turns out that stewing is as fun as is productive (which is to say, not at all) so I’ve recently turned my attention instead to our many wonderful friends who celebrate and embrace my children for who they are and who never make us feel that we should make excuses for neurodiversity. We are blessed by these friendships and I appreciate them, possibly even more so because of the rejection we sometimes face.

What is different about these friends that they don’t struggle to love us as we are?

The most charitable conclusion that I’ve come to about that disappointing play date is that parents are generally doing the best they can but sometimes people just need more resources. For that reason, I was really encouraged to find these booklets by the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. There’s one designed for elementary-aged school children  (PDF link) and another designed for teens (PDF link). The booklets were created because “classmates of a student with an ASD need information about autism . This information should be provided in a respectful manner and without stigmatizing the student on the autism spectrum.”

I have found both booklets to be really helpful and I recommend them to you. Please, let’s all just love each other the best we can.

4 responses to “Growing Up Together

  1. Beautifully written. xo

  2. Thanks for sharing. I hope you find more friends that can see the wonder that is all the Dutcher family. We all need to overcome our fears to see what is beautiful.

  3. I would like to add that protecting children when there is not truly a risk of violence (which is 99.9% of the situations) has a side effect of protecting them from learning how to be adaptive, flexible, work with many types of people, work through difficult issues with co-workers rather than judging them and ‘throwing them away’ after they have a bad day (due to divorce, losing their child, losing their parent, pain after surgery, etc), and enjoy events that those ‘other’ children are in because they pull them or teachers who they won’t experience because they have asked for their child not to be in class with ‘that child’ who are most likely the best teachers in the school – and certainly the most likely to model empathy and compassion.

  4. Dearest Tara,

    I am incredibly impressed with your ability to not lash out. Just as this woman felt as if she were protecting her child (which I find very difficult to understand), I imagine the pain you felt inside as a parent was unbearable. Yet your post clearly indicates the quality of person you are. You keep your head high and turned it into a meaningful lesson for all of us to learn from. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

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