Reaching out

Reaching out - a restaurant trip with Abel - autism

I was in a packed restaurant, enjoying lunch with my two closest friends. Our children were happily eating and chatting all around us, glad to be off school for half term. All of a sudden everything had became a little ‘theatrical’. Our waitress had just announced in a projected voice,

that child just touched my breast!

We all gasped in horror. How awful for her. She retreated to a safe distance, to cradle the offended breast, and we were left looking around, for a guilty face. Wondering, which badly raised child could have done such a thing.

My heart sank. She was pointing a finger at one of mine. Everyone’s eyes were upon him in a flash. Abel had run out of red crayon. He had patted the waitress to ask for a replacement. Charming her first with a “Please” and “Thank you” (a sign of excellent parenting).

It was clearly my turn to respond. Yet I had drawn a blank. I started to mull over how I would feel, if the same happened to me. As I thought back, I realized. The last ten years of my life, had been one long breast patting.

My breasts had chosen a career path of being bitten, drained, and yanked on. It was part of the job description. Not only by my own children, but any within a 2 mile radius. All of the children around the table had been in my arms at some point. I had certainly never wept for the sacredness of my chest, or felt a child’s touch was anything other than loving. I had stood up. Sweaty clenched fists at my side. My face burning red with anger,

He’s five!

I responded through gritted teeth. Sympathy now fully transferred to my son. Frustration and embarrassment, steadily rising for everyone.

I looked intently at my boy for a moment. His face was now streaming tears, his eyes all puppy dog. He always looked so adorable when he was confused (quiet) or asleep (motionless).  Abel is always three steps behind what is going on socially. But he is aware when someone is upset. It makes him upset.

In his hands were some crayons, and beneath him a tear stained drawing of a house (with a bad case of subsidence and wood rot). I knew then, this wasn’t a moment for either of us to grow. It was something I would breathe out, and let go of. Somewhat defeated, I turned to him and said,

Please say sorry to the waitress Able. She is very upset you touched her.

He dully mumbled an apology, not having a clue what he was sorry for. I then relocated to Abel’s seat, plonking him upon my lap, trying to be breezy; signalling to everyone this situation was now over and dealt with.

Reaching out - abel - special needs kids - eating outReaching out

Invading a stranger’s private space was (and still is) Abel’s favorite thing to do. I usually get embarrassed when it happens, the strangers will sometimes get upset. Its part of our life. I have had countless trips to nursery and school, to talk about his delayed walking, speech and motor ability. Now he’s 5, it’s a subject that simply won’t go away. He misses all educational targets, and is consistently one of the lowest performers in his class.

Socially, he’s been invited to one party in two years, (literally everyone was invited to that party). As I stand in the playground, I cannot help but feel jealous. Mothers make arrangements to share car trips and picks ups for parties. I feel the loss for him, and myself. A club I cannot gain entry into.

Having one child on the spectrum already, I know it’s a probability that he will also get a diagnosis. And here is where my absolute shame is brought to light. My eldest is academically gifted. And I take pride in her ability to outperform her peers. Its makes up for the struggle we have with social situations, as I feel there is a balance.

I am well aware that if he does have learning difficulties, they are ‘unfixable’. There is no magic pill to raise anyone’s level of intelligence. I have days where I simply want to know, and other days where I simply don’t care.

In the “Autistic Spectrum’, the author says;

They may touch the hair, clothing, wristwatch or other possessions of strangers, ignoring any protests.

I’m not sure where that is going to lead in life for him. Prison? Will it simply go away at some point? His inability to dress himself, brush teeth, or go to the toilet alone, doesn’t worry me. These skills can be learnt. But his ability to judge someone’s intent, character, or even level of interest. When will that happen?

Reaching out - abel - special needs kids - eating outAn epiphany

Recently we were food shopping. Abel spotted an elderly lady up ahead. Out of all the contact he initiates, the elderly are his favorite. Maybe it’s their inability to escape. Their day goes a little slower. Generally they also have more time and patience for him.

He cornered her at the crisp section. I was just behind.

These are my favorite crisps” he began. She nodded sweetly. “Mummy buys them for me. I like to carry them around in the super big bag, because I’m so strong“. As he flexed his impressive miniature muscles, I could see him move in for a full body cuddle, crisps as well.

Normally at this point, I’m reaching over to reel him back. And the stranger is rapidly trying to get away. But this time she responded lightning quick, by opening her arms to him, and wrapping them around him. The two of them just stood there, in silence, cuddling. I had this overwhelming feeling that I wanted to break down and cry. A combination of pride, relief and love. Abel spends his whole life searching out moments like this. Its not very often it goes well for him.

An epiphany came to me whilst standing there. The problem isn’t my boy. It’s everyone else’s reaction to him. He never stops trying to offer the very best of himself, to anyone that he can. His desire to connect means he uses whatever is around him, as a tool. It could be food, crayons, shoes, his feelings, anything. He genuinely wants to share an experience. He doesn’t feel any awkwardness, he just ploughs in with the presumption that they are interested, and that they have the time to spare.

I like to think that humans as a higher species would be open, loving, forgiving. We would automatically think the best of each other. That is who Abel is to the core. He’s absolutely beautiful in every way. If we all operated in such a state of love and peace, life would be better. We would bring out the very best out in each other. Being soft and loving is strength not a weakness.

His desire to just be himself and to show love is something we should all be doing. Feeling accepted for just being ‘ourselves’ is a wonderful feeling. He isn’t judging anyone by colour, age, cleanliness, or criminal record. Everyone is the same to him. They are a potential source of fun, love and friendship.

A special soul

I still take a deep breath to steady myself. How can someone so little, handle the level of rejection he deals with on a daily basis? But he does. It doesn’t stop him. He expects the best. Even the waitress, he gave her the picture when we left the restaurant. I thought maybe I deserved it more, but hey…

I wouldn’t change him. Maybe Abel has been sent to change us. One old person at a time, mainly in supermarkets and at bus stops. I do secretly hope he’s not doing it when he’s 20…secretly. Though I wouldn’t say that out loud.


  • “The Autistic Spectrum”, Lorna Wing