Heartbreak Hotel: Lunchroom Edition

I was volunteering at the high school yesterday for my teaching stuff and got to walk in on the last of lunch time with my daughter who has Autism. She was sitting alone. Most of her life skills classmates were standing along a nearby wall hanging out and talking, but she wasn't. She was just sitting there--alone--people-watching. Part of this situation can be attributed to the fact that she doesn't know how to insert herself into conversations/groups. She always waits for an invitation. The other part is something I just don't know how to discuss without stepping on people's feelings; however, her solitary existence struck my heart as I approached the table, and I must say something.  

I was unprepared for the deluge of emotion that overcame me. Questions and tears. Disappointment. Wishing for so much more for this precious child of mine. I don't understand why no one would want to sit with her. She is sweet and kind. To be more specific, she truly knows no guile--only purely honest simplicity of heart and being.  She can't talk much but if you just sit by her she'll tell you how pretty or cool your shirt is, give you a mini back rub, and work so hard to say something--anything. Why wouldn't someone who knows her from classes or church think to befriend her? Why wouldn't those individuals have an empathetic response? Would they like being alone at lunch time?

I think it begins at home. Why don't more people talk to their children about inclusion of those with disabilities? Do they not see my daughter and others like her as children of God too? Why is it so difficult when it really could be simple? She is simple. She doesn't ask for anything whatsoever. All that would be required is whatever they would give.

A lot of what I have heard is that people feel uncomfortable because they don't know what to say to someone who can't respond typically or that they are afraid of the autistic behaviors--such as personal space boundaries, etc. Let's be honest: sometimes it is awkward; sometimes it is weird. But who cares? EVERYONE has done awkward, strange things within their lifetime. It's just all piled together for years on end with Autism. All that really needs to happen is for people to recognize a disabled person's humanity and compassion and empathy would come. I just know it.

And you know what else? It really doesn't take that much effort to bring your group of friends over to sit with someone who doesn't comprehend much of what you're saying, laughs at all your jokes (even if they aren't very funny), and, to top it all off, you never have any risk of them gossiping about you behind your back because she doesn't know how. I would say that's a steal of a friend. A real bargain. A treasure beyond price.

This mother's heart cannot comprehend this at all.

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21 comments:

  1. Oh this made my heart hurt...I can so see this happening to my son. Actually two of my boys - my autistic child and my not so typical oldest son. Both are different...quirky. And I worry and wonder about high school for them.
    My husband had a talk with my oldest after he had been teased on the bus about the types of people in the world...those who are amazing jerks and those who are amazing people. I hope many of us are raising amazing people.

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    1. It hits so hard because by high school there are few precious years left for bonds of friendship to be formed before they no longer have that supposed social "opportunity". I really like your husband's perspective. Thank you for commenting; I need encouraging words right now.

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  2. How have I not found you before. I have a son with Asperger's and I see the same thing happening to him and he's almost nine. NINE. It breaks my heart every time I see it. And I hear the same things you do---they don't know what to do or say.....hugs to you. Big fat internet hugs.

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    1. Since I don't keep only to the topic of autism, a lot of people haven't discovered me yet. I want to show people how we can at least try to do all we set our minds to despite the roadblocks caused by this ever heart wrenching world of autism we live with. Thanks for the big fat internet hugs, too. That gave me a big fat IRL smile :))

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  3. This makes my heart hurt for you and your daughter, but also for countless of our children who could just as easily be in her seat. I see it at the playground with my nonverbal son; the looks of disdain or the outright avoidance...much of it from the parents. I wish more people were raising amazing people instead of amazing jerks. *sigh*

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    1. It's as if our children are invisible to the outside world, right? It blows my mind.

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  4. This is so sad. The desires for friendship and belonging are such a basic human desires, regardless of whether a person has special needs or not. It seems that everyone in that lunchroom should know on the most fundamental level that that isn't right. I agree that conversations about inclusion and empathy need to start at home. I cry for your daughter's beauty that goes unseen by her peers.

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  5. I see this everyday in the elementary school where I work as a lunchroom aide. My two sons attend the school are both are in stand-alone Autism classrooms. Their classes eat together and while not much talking happens among those sitting at the table there also isn't ANY from the many tables that surround them.

    I see the stares. I hear the comments from those tables close by and everyday I have to teach tolerance and respect and I wish just once someone would smile at my sons and their classmates at those tables and say Hi.

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    1. Your wish is my wish. If each student took one turn for just one day sitting with them or just saying hi, we wouldn't even get through the entire school population by year's end.

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  6. This makes me so sad. Casey usually sits by himself, too. They have parents come in on Fridays and eat with the kids. I noticed that he prefers it, but it still makes my heart hurt. I don't know how to approach it, either, because I want him to stay in his not caring state, at the same time, I'd love for him to make real friends.

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    1. My daughter seems to prefer it like you said, too, but I think that can be attributed to the fact that they are inadvertently conditioned to be alone. The thought makes me cry more. I like the idea of a lunch group that does rotations to keep them from being alone.

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  7. Oh this hurts my heart so much. This is my daughter too, she actually sits alone in the office now because she can't handle the noise of the cafeteria. I wish our girls were in the same school. We could sit them together and give our hearts a rest.

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  8. My heart is encouraged, lifted, and full to the brim with tears by all of your stories and love. There is nothing like being accepted and commiserated with by an army of Autism/Special Needs parents. I feel blessed by this experience.

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  9. I have to say, I love your sweet girl. She is the epitome of sweetness. I think about that day I got to spend with her a lot. I also have to tell you how many kids came up to us to say hi to her or give her "knuckles." At lunch and dinner, when I knew she couldn't wait in the long line, the kids in front allowed us in without even a question. I don't know why I never mentioned it to you before now, I should have, but I hope you know that those who do take the time to get to know her, can't help but love her. Maybe that's part of the solution for all our kids: finding more opportunities to educate people, peers as well as adults. The more people who understand, who "get it", the better for everyone. Not every kid who stopped that day stayed around very long, and maybe the "church" setting helped, but I was touched. And it gave me hope.

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    1. What a nice reminder that things aren't always so bad. It can get so discouraging in the moment, but we need to remember that there is always hope. Thank you!

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  10. Found this link from Twitter. I had a child with special needs who died when she was 8. Our worst experience like this was at church. A little girl with Down Syndrome came up to my Olivia in her wheelchair and said, "What's wrong with YOU?" Her mother whisked her away. My first living proof of how parents teach their children how to act. I'm so sorry for the hurt you feel. I understand it all to well.

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    1. I have had some of the most trying situations happen at church. I must admit that some of them have been my fault because I turn into a ferocious lioness on people who just don't understand yet. It is so hard to figure life out, let alone intellectual disability issues on top of it all. Thank you for taking time to read and comment. I appreciate this outpouring of love from so many people.

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  11. Yes, this is making me cry, yet I am still so happy to have found your post thru Jill's link because now I can share it with my 12 and 15 year old. I feel like there are things I can try to explain to them and experiences I can try to provide, but your words here I think go far beyond anything I can instill on my own. Much love goes out to you and your sweet girl

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  12. This was a difficult post for me to read. I have a step-son with an alphabet-soup of problems. And even though I know that we got him too late, I will always feel that I could/should have done more to help him.

    He so desperately wanted friends and attention, and affection, that he tended to barge in where he wasn't wanted. He just didn't know how to read social clues and interact with other people.

    We tried to work with him, during the short time he lived with us. But, I was clueless about ADHD, OCD, and the myriad of undiagnosed problems he was born with - and acquired over the almost 13 years of his life before I knew him.

    He turned 22 on the 9th - in jail.

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