One Wednesday afternoon, as I was moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer, my cell phone rang.
I ran into the next room and saw that it was my son’s school. It was a call that so many autism parents dread ― the kiddo was having a pretty big meltdown at school and they didn’t know how to help him. Luckily it was my day off, so I got in my car and drove up there. I signed in at the office, feeling the concerned eyes of the office staff silently watch me. I walked down the long hallway towards his classroom unsure of what I’d find waiting for me. I turned the corner and entered the room where my son had “destroyed” an entire section of the class ― toys thrown about, pencils broken in half, papers ripped into shreds. He was completely distraught.
Once my son was able to calm down, I asked the teacher a long string of questions in an effort to determine what the trigger was and helped think of ways to prevent my son from getting so distressed in the future. I helped clean up the mess. I even gave the teacher a hug and thanked her for trying and for keeping me informed. But I didn’t do something that I had done so often in the past. I didn’t apologize for my son’s behavior.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the past six years apologizing to people because of my son’s disability. I’m sorry we have to leave the party, he’s in sensory overload. I’m sorry he’s not wearing any clothes, he doesn’t like the way they feel. I’m sorry he won’t sit at the table and eat the lovely dinner you prepared. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Well I have a new sorry. Sorry, but I am done apologizing.
Out of nowhere it hit me that all those times I was apologizing, I was saying “I’m sorry my son has autism and he acts differently than most kids. I’m sorry he acts like a kid who has autism.”
Why would I apologize that my son has a disability? Why would I apologize that he acts like a child with autism? Why would I care if he does not behave the way people expect? Why would I apologize for my son’s behavior when he is doing his best to navigate a world that was made for neurotypical people? It’s not his fault he is overwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong, I am sorry he is in distress. I am sorry that we haven’t given him the right tools and resources to have a school day free from meltdowns. I am sorry he was triggered. I am sorry that it’s distracting to the other children when he melts down. I’m sorry that stuff got broken in the process. But I am not sorry that he behaved in a way that was beyond his control because of his disability. I am not sorry that his disability requires that his teachers work to create the best environment for him, even if it doesn’t align with the other kids. I am not sorry that we need to carve time out of our lives to create the tools he needs to help him process those moments where he is completely overwhelmed. I am not sorry for who he is.
People may not always understand why our lives are structured a certain way or why we “allow” certain behavior, but we do not answer to those people.
As a mom, my job is to help my son grow and develop into the best version of himself and autism is a part of who he is. I won’t condone bad behavior, but I also won’t spend a lifetime allowing him to hear me constantly say sorry to other people for who he is. I love and accept him unconditionally and my words need to reflect that.
When I feel embarrassed about and spend time apologizing for the behavior directly related to his autism, I am indirectly telling him that something in him is “wrong” and I never want him to feel that way.
So sorry everyone, I am really really done saying sorry.
More of Mandy’s work can be found at www.mandycowley.com