Dear Mr. Savage,
My name is Shannon Johnson and I am the proud parent of a 13 year old son with autism.
If you met my son, you would probably think that he was very funny, as he would not hesitate to smile and call you weird, which is his best attempt at a compliment. He would find you intriguing because you have facial hair and he would want to touch it with his sticky fingers that usually smell like his last meal. He seems taller than he actually is because he walks on his toes. It makes it hard for him to wear shoes, but he will tolerate flip-flops in the summer and slip on shoes in the winter, as long as he can take them off as soon as he gets in the car or enters the house. Although he eats like a horse and I literally have to keep a lock on my refrigerator door, he is skinny and underweight, probably in part because of his severe digestive issues. Without a special diet of gluten-free and dairy-free foods, and a multitude of supplements, enzymes and medications, he wouldn’t even digest a fraction of the food that passes his lips. For the majority of his life, he has experienced more restrictions, seen more physicians, been poked more with needles and been tested more by psychologists than most adults can ever imagine. Through it all, he has been braver and more courageous than anyone I have ever met.
Naturally, it disappoints me to hear someone of your intelligence and of your influence describe children with autism as “brats”. I can only assume that you are referring to the fact that some children with autism are known to have behavioral meltdowns or tantrums.
Honestly, my son is one of those kids. If you saw him in public having a meltdown, you would probably deduct that he was screaming because he couldn’t have a new toy or another ice cream cone; that he was using his lungs to manipulate his parents into giving into his selfish requests. However, you would be completely wrong. Instead, he might simply be reacting to the fact that the sights and smells, the sounds and colors in the mall, or at the grocery store, have overwhelmed his already over-stimulated sensory system and he needs to retreat to the safety of the car right away.
In this heightened moment, his anxiety would be revved up and he would lose his ability to verbally communicate his needs. He would then rely on his tears to inform me or his father that his system had had all that it could take, no matter what goodie we might offer, no matter what reward lay in our cart….And then, once he was safe away from the sensory assault, he might ask, as he has in the past, “What can we do next time so that it’s not so loud in the store?”……Certainly, we have even sat in the rain to eat a meal outside when the restaurant lights were too bright or the music inside too loud for our very sensitive boy.
If you stood outside my son’s door sometime, Mr. Savage, as I invite you to do if you are ever in my neighborhood, you might hear my son ask God in heaven to “please make me get better soon.” Not really the words of a “brat”, Mr. Savage…Only a very affected child who doesn’t feel good most of the time, and would do just about anything to just be like everyone else.