Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Big Dose of Diversity

by Michele Hammons

Michelle Hammons’ son, Jacob, has autism. A stay at home mom and active volunteer at the Autism Treatment Center, Michelle and her husband Dan have worked hard to help Jacob be all he can just as they do with his neurotypical older brother Daniel.

There are many activities that my autistic son, Jacob and I enjoy doing together. One of our favorites is going to restaurants to sample various different cuisines. It is a characteristic that Jacob and I both share. We both love to cook and eat good food. Especially food that is different than what we normally eat. We love things that are different, but we’ll get to that later.

A few years ago, we were meeting some friends for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. We were the first to arrive and were immediately seated at our table. While we were waiting on our drinks, Jacob decided he was tired of waiting. He threw himself on the floor and started screaming. The once busy and loud restaurant immediately became quiet and you could have heard a pin drop. I immediately started formulating my plan of escape, of course, and vowed never to return in case they remembered us.

First of all, how was I going to hoist my 85-pound child off the floor and carry all of our belongings to the car? I decided that other than Jacob, all that I really needed to grab was my purse. My friends could pick up the rest of my belongings when they arrived.

I proceeded to lift my screaming kiddo off the floor and make a quick exit. Everything was happening so quickly that it wasn’t until then that I took a look around, I noticed how much of a spectacle we had become. Some people were laughing and pointing at us, some were looking at me with that “you need to take better control of your kid look”, some truly looked sad, but one person offered to help. She grabbed all of the things I had carried in without question and walked with us to the car.

I could barely talk and was able to hold my emotions in until I reached the car. Jacob was still screaming and tears that I fought back started to roll down my face as I attempted to buckle in my unhappy child. After getting him settled, I walked around the car to find this kind-hearted stranger patiently waiting for me with all of my stuff in hand. She explained to me that she worked with children with autism and knew Jacob was special. I thanked her, she gave me a hug, and we went our separate ways. In my haste, however, I never even learned her name. She was my angel that day and I am forever grateful for her help.

The long ride home gave me time to think about everything that had taken place that day. Dealing with autism is difficult, especially when others around do not show compassion or understanding. My feelings were so hurt for my child. At the time, he had limited ability to communicate. I can’t imagine what he must have been feeling that day. I was sad for the patrons of the restaurant who had to witness the meltdown. Though we celebrate diversity in or communities, we don’t always demonstrate understanding. But most of all, I was heartbroken thinking about the thousands of families that have the same experiences every day.

The dictionary defines diversity as the fact or quality of being different. To me, diversity is beautiful. It is that quality that makes each of us special. I can’t imagine how boring our lives would be without diversity. I pray for a cure for autism, but until that day happens I will continue to work with my beautiful little boy that just happens to be touched with a big dose of diversity.

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