Children are amazing little people. They don’t see skin color, only whether or not someone is nice.
They love to laugh. They love to play.
They instinctively know when someone needs a hug. Or a friend.
Nicole Duggan, 31, of Cork, Ireland, couldn’t wait for her son Riley to see Santa. They were in the throes of her precious little boy being tested for autism, but in her mom-heart, she already knew he was autistic.
But that didn’t matter one bit.
He was her little boy, her world. She loved him with all her heart.
And it broke her mom-heart whenever anyone stared negatively or said something rude about her innocent child. Her son who was awaiting a life-altering diagnosis of autism.
“I was ok with it. I had accepted it, and just like any other child, he was on a visit to see Santa.”
Riley was enthralled with all of the bright lights at Santa’s workshop. There were snowmen everywhere, Christmas music playing and he lost himself in the magic of the moment.
“It was sensory heaven for my little boy. His face lit up with everyone he saw. With every tree we passed. With every reindeer he saw. They all lit up. He was in heaven.”
When Riley gets excited, he flaps his hands and jumps up and down. He hums and squeals, too. He’s non-verbal, so that’s simply how he shows he’s excited.
“I’ll never forget watching him in there. He was so so happy. In my head, we were like any other family. We were enjoying our experience.”
But the more excited he became, the more he flapped, squealed and paced around. That meant more people stared at him and began murmuring about her sweet two-year-old son.
She had been trying so hard to keep it together during the nervewracking autism assessment process, but when she glanced at one woman in particular, she couldn’t believe the disgust she saw reflected on the woman’s face.
Disgust that was aimed at her baby boy.
Riley and Nicole sat on a bench in Santa’s waiting area. He was still humming happily, flapping his hands with excitement. Nicole pointed out the beautiful sights before them when suddenly, a little girl sat down right next to Riley.
She didn’t stare. She just looked at Riley curiously and said hello.
Riley wasn’t able to acknowledge her greeting with a responsive hello, so Nicole said hi. Then Riley turned and smiled at the little girl.
“The biggest, happiest smile I have seen. He had seen her. He had noticed her. His hands flapped. He squealed. It was his way of communicating. My heart burst because he had, in his own way, answered her.”
But then, the little girl’s mother honed in on them. She could actually feel the mom’s stare boring through her. But then her words rocked Nicole’s world.
“‘No, no, don’t sit next to him darling, move away.’ This sentence is the one that always stands out to me. It always cuts like a knife. It shatters my heart into a million pieces.”
As the mom marched her little girl away from Riley, she just had to have the last say.
“Maybe you should try those special Santa’s, you know, for kids like him.”
Nicole was brokenhearted. The little girl wasn’t intimidated by her son’s behavior. She wanted to be nice, to be a friend.
She even waved and said goodbye as her mom sternly steered her off in another direction.
“In that moment, my heart shattered. In that moment, that woman had ruined EVERY aspect of our day. In that moment, I knew I had to breathe, or I would cry my eyes out. Not because of what she said to me. Because I knew my little boy was right where he was meant to be. He was going to see Santa. And he was happy. My heart crumbled because this woman was going to teach her child that kids, like my little boy, are weird. This woman was teaching her child that autism is bad. She should not be near kids like him.”
But what the mom overlooked was how much in common Riley and her daughter really were. They both cry when they fall. They love their moms. They laugh when tickled. They love to dance. They probably don’t like Brussel sprouts but adore chocolate. And they’re so full of love.
While the differences may be huge, that was no reason to treat him so terribly.
“They say as parents, we teach our children. But in this instance, that little girl was the teacher. That little girl saw no difference, she saw a friend. She could teach her mother about acceptance. About love. About understanding. She could teach her mother different is not less and everyone in this world is equal. Disability comes with judgment. It comes with the stares, the comments, the looks. It comes with the hard days. You learn to grow a thick skin. To blank them out. To just focus on what is important.”
Nicole knows she cannot protect her son from every glance, every harsh and hurtful word or action. But she wants no other parent to ever experience what she did, for no other parent to “experience this ignorance.”
“Autism may make my little boy different, but who says different is bad? Because I think it is pretty amazing. And I know that little girl did too!”
Bless Nicole’s mom-heart and the battles she’s faced defending and protecting her sweet little boy. If only everyone was childlike in their thoughts and opinions of others, there would be so much less hate and hurt in this world.
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Source: Love What Matters