The Invisibility of Autism And Handling Unexpected Circumstance


Yesterday late afternoon was one of those days I wish Michael had some sort of sign identifying his autism to the world. I don’t often wish for this, not because his autism is anything that is bad, but because I truly believe that no one should be thought of as one of the many things that define them. Michael has autism, but he also has an amazing brain for navigating, a great sense of humor, and a terrific singing voice. But yesterday arriving at the our local pool for his swimming lesson, the unexpected through his orderly world into a tailspin. A normal routine of him changing in the family change room with me keeping him on target with time and setting up his clothes in a change stall so he does not walk around the room naked did not happen. With it being Spring Break in our neck of the woods, it was public swim at the local pool as well. There were many families who took their little ones to enjoy an afternoon of swimming indoors on a dreary rainy day.

We arrived at the locker room and it was packed with tons of parents and kids. I’d never seen it like this before though. We had ten minutes to change and no free stalls or areas to change. I knew Michael would have to go into the men’s changing room as he could not come with me in the women’s. He is not 6 years of age or under anymore. I prepared him for this, and I had raised my voice to be heard above the chaos in the change room that he would need to change for his swimming lesson in the men’s locker room. That’s when one of the mothers told me that there had been a serious swimming accident with a child and that they had cleared the pool. No one was allowed in. It was not the pool we usually swam in, but as the shock of what had happened took over me, I uttered the usual, oh my goodness, and then thanked her for telling me.

I explained to Michael this new change and went back to the front desk to see about the lesson. We waited and few minutes later someone came back to tell us that we would have the lesson and where to go. I went over with Michael verbally what he had to do, but he had problems in the locker room. He asked if I could wait outside. Then he didn’t know where the stalls were and kept walking around half naked in the room. Finally, I could hear voices of other boys telling him to put his clothes on. The main door to the locker room was open so he came a few times to say hi. Suffice it to say, it was stressful for both of us.He was angry that those boys were “yelling” at him. I explained they were trying to help him. They didn’t know he had autism and was not sure what to do. I explained that he could have asked them where he could change and ask questions. I did not know the layout of the room and could not go with him. So a sign or some ¬†sort of indicating that he has challenges with sequencing and changes in routine would have been helpful here. But that is life. It is unpredictable and we have to teach our kids with autism how to go with the flow and handle the unforseen. In the end after some arguments and tension, we moved on.

Exceptional Parents, how many times have you found yourself in situations where your child can’t process what is happening around them and others do not know that there is a reason why? How do you handle it? Ideally, parents need to stay calm and firm, and afterwards use it as a learning experience. All children need to learn to go with the flow, and though it is harder for Exceptional Kids, with time and effort it is possible. Until next time.

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