After my daughter was diagnosed with autism, I got three tattoos in her honor. I think they were part of my grieving process, and they helped me heal. I have one on each forearm and one on my chest, so they often become a topic of discussion when I meet someone new. They are a wonderful ice breaker to get people talking about autism. Almost every time I leave the house, at least omy-tattoosne person asks about my tattoos. I tell them about Raelyn’s diagnosis and they respond in 1 of 2 ways: they either say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Or

they get very uncomfortable, look at me with pity in their eyes, and immediately change the subject. I’ve become so accustomed to these statements, I have my “cookie cutter” responses already in my head.

Well the other day at Publix, the cashier left me absolutely speechless with her response.

She asked about my tattoos and I explained they are for my autistic daughter. Do you know what she said? Not that she was sorry. She didn’t look at me with pity or sympathy. This autism-is-not-a-tragedy-ignorance-issweet teenage girl simply asked me, “What is she like?” She probably thought I was a bit crazy, because I just stood there for a minute while I processed what just happened.

It’s such a simple question: “What is she like?” but this cashier has no idea how much of an impact she made on me that night. I don’t know of one special needs parent who actually feels sorry for themselves due to the hand they’ve been dealt. Sure, we have our bad days. Yeah, we sometimes feel jealous of our friends who have kids that are talking and meeting other milestones. Of course it is heartbreaking to watch our kids struggle. But the love we feel for them negates all of those bad days and negative feelings. We sometimes get sad when we watch our child work twice as hard to achieve half the outcome of their peers, but we don’t feel sorry for ourselves.

We feel blessed that WE are the select few who are chosen for the heart wrenching task of raising a child with special needs.

I know that people mean well when they say they’re sorry about my circumstances. But to say “I’m sorry,” to us is basically saying you pity our lives, because you don’t think raising a child with special needs is as worthy as yours. You’re telling us that anything less than perfect deserves pity and sympathy. My daughter is so much more than a diagnosis. She has likes and dislikes, thoughts, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. Raelyn is an INDIVIDUAL, just like any other person, with her own unique little personality. So open up that door to let me tell you about her. Let me open your eyes to the beauty my child sees in the-most-thoughtful-thing-you-can-say-to-an-autism-parentthe world.

Do not pity me.

I have the most amazing life anyone could ever ask for. I have to work with Raelyn for hours to get her to do something that comes natural to other kids. But you know what? The hours of hard work make those sweet victories so much more special. I treasure every milestone and celebrate things that most parents don’t think twice about. Raelyn’s diagnosis has forced me to slow down and just enjoy every little thing that makes her unique.

You WILL be put in the situation where someone tells you their child has special needs. Don’t tell this parent that you’re sorry. I can assure you they have heard that response thousands of times and they are sick of it. I challenge you to ask that person: “What is she like?” You may be surprised by what you learn.

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