Let’s Teach the World

My son,

I want to tell you about the beginning. The beginning of autism. And a bit of the middle I suppose.

I used to get so upset when people stared at you.

You’d be flapping. Or making happy noises. Screeches. Grunts. High pitched screams.

One second you’d be on the floor and the next running only to drop to the ground, roll, laugh and pat the ground. Or you’d be melting down. Screaming. Either way it almost sounds the same. Loud.

I’d look around. Make eye contact. Sometimes I’d look away. But other times I wouldn’t. I’d stare right back. Challenging them in my head to say something. My gaze fierce. Unkind. No grace to be seen or felt.

Sometimes I’d feel invincible. Other times I’d feel weak.

Me. The only layer between you and the world.
Sometimes I’d think in my head, stop. Stop Cooper. Stop drawing attention to yourself. To us. Everyone knows.
But it’s not for reasons you think. I wasn’t embarrassed of you. Never. I wasn’t ashamed either.
I was scared kid. I was nervous. I worried they were judging you. Labeling you as bad. Mocking. Teasing.

There is this thing that happens when you are different Cooper. People, the world, the way they act towards a person changes when they realize…

They’d know you were different. This stranger at Target that we’d never see again. Or the little girl at the park. And what if they laughed. What if they mocked. What if they bullied. I was so scared of different.
I’m not so scared anymore. Today I sat on the ground with you at a train station. We were surrounded by so many people. You were struggling. Tired. Hot. Covering your ears. Hitting your head.
So I sat down. I held your hands. I put them to my cheeks. And we counted to ten.
1, 2, 3, deep breath. By 10 I helped you up. And we were off. The crowds parted as we walked through.
I used to care what people thought about us. Not anymore. Because what these people didn’t know is I prayed for this. We walked, as a family, for an hour. To a lighthouse, through a museum, and to an ice cream shop. I never thought I’d see the day.
I promise you kid I will sit with you and deflect every stare for the rest of my life.You be different. You be loud. You be you. And I’ll be right next to you.

But let’s together make another promise. Me and you. Let’s teach the world. Let’s show them autism.

And let’s be patient with them. Let’s have kind eyes. And greet the stares with a smile and patience.
I will try to lower my shield a bit Cooper. So they can see the real you. You deserve that.
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.
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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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