Invited to Play: ‘Do You Know Anyone With Autism?’


‘I’m sorry I’m crying…this is so unlike me. This has just never happened before.’

Those were the words I said to a fellow mom today. I didn’t know her. I just knew it was her children on the raft that my son Cooper was swimming out too.

It took me a second to catch my breath. My sunglasses hiding my tears.

Then I said…

‘My son. His name is Cooper. He is swimming out to play with your boys. Your husband invited him but he didn’t respond.

See he’s autistic and doesn’t speak. And I get nervous that your boys won’t understand him.’

I went onto say that ‘My husband is swimming out there too. To tell them about him.’

She smiled. And told me not to worry. ‘It will be great,’ she said.

I walked back to where I could see.

Of course she couldn’t understand how huge this was. Twelve years. That’s how long I waited for this exact moment.

I watched my yellow haired boy swimming out. I watched his dad swimming behind him. And I tried to listen.

I heard a greeting. I heard him ask how old they were.

I heard small talk about baseball and football and hockey.

And then…’this is my boy Cooper. He has autism. Do you know anyone with autism?’

I held my breath. And felt relief as I watched my other son Sawyer cannon ball into the group. The protector. And Cooper roll into the center of the raft taking his place.

And I felt every emotion. Many contradictory. But isn’t that just the nature of life? Everything and all at once.



I watched for 25 minutes as they played. I could tell that Cooper didn’t quite understand the games they played but it didn’t matter. I could tell he was just so happy to be included. And in the middle of their chaos.

Near but far. That’s how I describe him. And our autism life.

It’s funny how something so seemingly simple will be a core memory for me.

And I wonder if my boy Cooper taught these boys something. I’ll never know I guess.

As Sawyer and Cooper swam back, two brothers, side by side, I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

And a glimpse of what could have been flashed before my eyes.

‘Mom! Did you see Cooper out there with us? It was amazing! Are you crying mom?’

The tears were happy. I promise.

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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