A Story Worth Telling


We need to create more dialogue about the entire spectrum. Not just about children who are high-functioning or happen to be savants.

Remember the video of the teenage boy who surprised the entire nation with all of his three pointers in a local basketball high school game? It made the news and he even ended up writing a book. What a great feel good story. I’ve watched numerous videos of children on the spectrum whose parents are surprised to see that their child is also a savant. We see them playing the piano beautifully or creating pieces of art with each elegant stroke of a paint brush. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, it can bring chills up and down your spine and tears to your eyes. These stories are an excellent way to share to the world how special our children with autism are and what contributions they bring to society, but that’s all these stories seem to do. They do not teach acceptance or patience.

In my opinion, we need to start talking about children on the spectrum who have been forgotten. The children on that side of the spectrum that no one talks about. We need to have dialogue on how to support families who have children with autism that have to fight for every minute to be in a typical classroom because the schools feel these children are unable to be integrated. Our society needs to hear stories about children who suffer from SIB (Self Injurious Behavior) – who hit and cause themselves serious injury. Let’s talk about the heroic efforts their parents make as they fight for services to care for their children in order to extinguish those behaviors. Maybe this type of dialog would teach the public to be more patient and realize that every child on the spectrum is not a savant or unusually brilliant like Einstein.

They are people, like you and me, but they happen to suffer from a neurological disorder that inhibits them from communication and may be overcome by sensory input. We still live in a society where people judge and they are quick to assume that we, as parents, aren’t doing enough to “discipline” our children. Last weekend, my family went to an O’Charley’s restaurant on the way home from a trip to Atlanta. Once we sat down, Broden dropped a crayon and it fell between the seat and the wall. I couldn’t reach the crayon because I could not slide the seat from the wall. Giving him more crayons didn’t calm him. He only wanted the crayon he couldn’t have. I brought him to the bathroom to only be defeated again and again by his uncontrollable screaming.

I walked with Broden back to the table to notify Mark and Hayden that Broden and I would be waiting in the car in the parking lot. Once I turned around, I saw Broden run over to another table and grab a toy out of a child’s hand. All four adults at the table screamed out loud at Broden, “No! No! No!,” in unison. You would have thought my son had  grabbed a steak knife and was stabbing this child in the heart. I took the toy back to the child and then scampered out of the restaurant.

After putting Broden in the car to continue his tantrum, I sat on the ground outside and cried. This was not one of our finest moments and I’m sad to say it probably wouldn’t be our last. Hayden came outside and put his hand on my shoulder, “Mom I’m sorry. I know, all we wanted to do was eat in a restaurant today.” He was right. Is this a feel-good story or an event that would make the news? No, but events like this one happen to families everyday who are raising children on the spectrum. We need to create more dialogue about the entire spectrum. Not just about children who are high-functioning or happen to be savants. Some stories may be uncomfortable to see or hear, but it doesn’t mean that we ignore these children. They are people and they matter.

I read a quote the other day that resonated with me. “Sometimes what we can’t change, ends up changing us.” We can’t change our children. We love them as they are and care for them the best we can. Instead of focusing on trying to change who they are, or wondering why they aren’t more like us, we should embrace the fact that with them in our lives, they are changing us everyday, for the better. •

We need to create more dialogue about the entire spectrum. Not just about children who are high-functioning or  happen to be savants.

A Story Worth Telling
Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Hood, TX. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners.

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