An Open Letter to Those Who Choose Not to Understand

I forgive you. I forgive you for choosing to judge before understanding. I forgive you for choosing to label me as a poor parent before knowing the journey I face and I choose to forgive you for neglecting to be kind when kindness matters most. Why? Because I was you. Before I walked in the shoes I currently wear, I was judgmental, too. I am so grateful to have my daughter who is teaching me each day to celebrate the days instead of focusing on what isn't right or what child isn't perfect.

Nearly two years ago I first noticed my daughter's behavior at church. She was just over one and so well behaved. She was better behaved than other kids her age. With pride I stood holding her close and watched as she stared up at the ceiling and watched the fan go round and round for the entire hour. Every week. Without fail. It was my first sign that my daughter had autism. Though I worried and began to question her behaviors, I wasn't ready to have her assessed until nearly a year later when it was quickly determined that she was in fact autistic.

Each day we live with that diagnosis. Autism. Some days its beautiful. Some days I look in her eyes and feel love unlike any love I have ever felt. Some days I want to pull my hair out when its not even 8 a.m. and the toilet paper has been unraveled and the sensory bin has been dumped. Autism is a diagnosis. It does not define her but it is in fact a part of her. It impacts her in ways I will never understand. To top things off she's also diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. Think about not knowing how to understand your world and then think about it as the world seems to cave in on you in spaces where you feel scared and out of control. She struggles in large spaces and today, she made it through the homily before needing to be taken out of mass. My husband and I were pleased with how far she made it and I was hopeful the remainder of mass would be just as bright as the radiant sun outside.

When she needed it my husband quickly ushered her outside. I could hear her upset and I met my husband in the Narthex to take the hand off of this amazing gift that our family has been given. A child. A child with an unseen disability that is helping to grow us to be better people. Unfortunately, the Narthes seems to have grown to be a space where people choose to worship instead of choosing to go to when their children are less than appropriately behaved. My husband handed my sweet babe off and headed inside and the next few minutes were amazing.

I stood by and watched as my child approached another with loving hands, wrapping her arms around the child hugging her and stroking her face. Being taller than the baby I worried slightly about the fact she was hugging her neck but knowing the parents, I knew they felt the blessings I did in seeing this interaction.

Moments later another friend, with a daughter just days younger than our sweet girl came out and the two held hands. They shared a small snack and I felt this amazing warmth inside my being. At church, a place I feel safe I was witnessing these little milestones that mean so much to me. To you however, it was obvious it meant nothing as you rolled your eyes and stared with disdain at these children shushing them to be quiet.

I watched as you glared at me when my daughter decided she wanted to in fact go visit the priest on the alter and I caught her just a few rows before she reached him. I heard you when you shushed her and whispered she shouldn't be there. I heard and my heart broke.

I have close friends with children who have special needs and though some are visible, not all special needs are. I thought I understand what it meant to walk in their shoes as my oldest has sensory issues herself but I will be honest and let you know, I had no idea either.

This isn't about chastising you for your behavior towards my child but its about educating ourselves to be more understanding. Today, more than ever children are facing disabilities that you cannot see. Children are facing struggles that are not visible and children are living in lives we didn't have to worry about just one generation ago.

I forgive you. All of you that choose to judge that choose to condemn that choose to label before knowing the whole story because I too did the same. I am grateful for the gift of my child AND her disability. I am learning through her each day and I hope one day you too will have the opportunity to be blessed by the gift of disability because while its not easy its truly a gift.


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