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Normalizing Our World

Cooper 28

I found myself sitting next to a woman today. I was out in the community.

She has three children and seven grandkids.

She lives in a big city. She is in town for Thanksgiving. Visiting family.

We got to chatting. Like strangers often do when they find themselves sitting side by side.

She asked me about my life. Do I have kids? Where am I from? She really wanted to talk kids. I could tell. She was a very sweet woman. Like my own mother.

‘I do! Three boys and a baby girl. That’s my Sawyer over there,’ I said with a smile.

She asked how old they are.

‘Almost 11 and 9 and my two littles are 3 and 6 months.

‘One of my grandsons is 11. Such a fun age. He is playing soccer and baseball. He’s very active. His mom has him volunteering at a shelter in their neighborhood. He wants to be a singer. And a veterinarian. Isn’t that a riot?

He’s just started talking back. Ooh does he have a smart mouth at times. Kids these days. So different then when I grew up. Everyone is so busy now. Tell me about your sons.

You must be going nonstop?’

I always find this part to be hard. I’m not embarrassed about autism. I’m not shy. I don’t feel the need to keep it a secret. But our life is different. And no matter how I describe it, once I say the word autism, the conversation will get weird. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Unless she has autism in her life. And I don’t want it to be that way. It shouldn’t be a sad thing.

I told her about Sawyer. Then the babies. Then Cooper. I said he loves trains and puzzles. And the alphabet. And dancing. He played miracle league baseball this year. That was a riot. He is really excited for his birthday this year.

‘What does he want to be when he grows up?’

There it was. A question that I couldn’t really answer without sharing autism. Not because I don’t believe in him. I do. But I also know that he will need support. And it will look different.

‘Um. Well. I don’t know that. He’s autistic. He’s just learning how to talk and communicate. He’s doing great. Amazing. He goes to a special school that’s helping him tremendously. But as for a job, I just don’t know if that’s in the cards. But I would love if he could volunteer or have some sort of job some day.’

Silence.

I could tell she felt uncomfortable. After just telling me all about the things her grandson is doing. And will most likely achieve. She felt bad for me. I knew this would happen.

It always does.

People hear autism. And then nonspeaking. And then lifelong care. And they feel bad. I get it. I’m not offended.

So I do everything I can to tell them about the beautiful parts. The parts that most people don’t know about because they aren’t celebrated in the mainstream world.

I told her how every single day is the best day of his life. He’s always happy. He’s learning to say his brother’s names. He loves hugging and tickling and wrestling. He loves photos…especially of his baby brother.

It’s such a fine line for me. A confusing line. I don’t want people to feel sad. I want to talk about our life openly and honestly. The good, the hard and the reality. Because it’s my life. It’s as simple as that. I want to share our world just like she wants to share hers. One is not less. Just different. Differences we should talk about.

Moms and dads in our world. Keep talking. Tell your stories. Share your world. Share your children. Because that’s the only way we are going to move forward. Keep talking.

Normalize our world.

Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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