My son is as big as I am now. I don’t know when that happened. It seems like just yesterday that I carried him everywhere perched on my hip. But now that he’s no longer that little boy, it’s time to have, “The Talk.” It’s not about sex; his father can talk to him about that. The talk I want to have with him is about walking because he’s too big for me to carry now. It’s a talk about survival.
Every day we go for a walk together. Our neighborhood is safe, but someday he may be in one that’s not. And I may not be there to walk with him. So, I need to make him understand the things that I learned myself growing up. We Autistic people have to walk very carefully.
I’ll tell my curious son, who is fascinated by so many things he sees, that he can’t run up to look at things and he can never look in someone’s window. People would not understand and they could get scared. They could hurt him. They could even kill him. Or they could call the police and the police might hurt or kill him instead before they realized he was not a threat to anyone.
I’ll tell my son, who loves the feeling of the wind on his face and who is always looking up at lights and fans, that he must keep his head down so he can see other people around him. If he walks too close, or runs into someone, they might feel threatened and hurt him.
I’ll tell my son, who does not speak fluently, that he has to keep his voice down and that he needs to try to walk and move like other people around us because if people realize that he is Autistic, they might think it’s easier to mug or rob him.
I’ll tell him that if the police ever tell him to do something, to say he’s Autistic and he will try. And if those words won’t come out, just to say “autism” loudly and do his best to do what they want as fast as he can.
After I tell him these things, I will remind him that there is nothing wrong with being like us. We don’t have to try to look and act like other people because we should be ashamed. We just have to be safe because people don’t understand us, and they fear what they don’t understand. And frightened people are dangerous.
And I’ll promise him that we can also go for walks at times we are mostly alone and in safe places and then he can be curious and look at things, as long as they are not in yards. And he can sing and say whatever he wants. And he can look up and feel the wind on his face. And he can be himself. And I’ll promise him that I will keep trying really hard to make the world safer for us by helping others to understand us better.
I hate that I have to have this talk with him. It breaks my heart to have to tell him these things. But I know that they are true. It can be dangerous to be different. It can be dangerous to walk while Autistic. But we are not going to hide inside. The world belongs to us too and we are going to experience it. And that’s why I am trying to help others to understand. Because someday, I would like us to be able to just go for a walk.
Nadine Silber is a writer and lawyer who lives outside of Philadelphia.