I was just reading through some of my old posts to get inspiration when I ran across my post about competence again and I was hit with the power of the moment as though it had just happened seconds ago. Here's the recap for those of you who might not have read it - there was a stranger who told me how awesome he thought an autistic girl was. Come to find out, the girl he'd been talking about was Caley. The contrast between his words and the negative outcome everyone had been predicting for Caley was just so huge and so powerful that I hugged him, a complete stranger, out of nowhere. (Here's the full post)
That moment touched me in a way completely disproportionate with the size of the gesture. He was being nice, sure, but he didn't even realize she was my sister, much less set out to do something as huge for me as he accidentally did.
But maybe that's one of the morals we can take from this story - the importance of small gestures. Because I'm not the only one who has found great power in gestures that would seem insignificant to others. My mother was telling me how one man's kindness to her and Caley in the grocery store when Caley was having a meltdown as a little girl stays with her to this day.
Another mother told me how much it meant to her when years ago her autistic son ate chicken nuggets off of another diner's plate and instead of yelling, the man reacted with compassion. Other stories of similarly touched mothers, like this mother thanking a man for what to others would seem to be merely playing with her autistic daughter, have even gone viral. None of these people knew the indellible impact their actions would leave. But those of us affected do.
And I know that this isn't an autism acceptance or understanding or awareness post like I've been writing this month. But autistic people aren't the only ones who need help - sometimes the people who love them do, too. And we need to realize that even the tiniest gesture of support - a kind word or a moment of time - can mean everything to a person, be it a caregiver or an autistic person themselves, who is battling against the crushing weight of the societal stigma of autism.
So the next time you see someone on the spectrum or their caregiver, particularly if they're struggling, take care to be extra compassionate and kind. Who knows? Your small gesture may leave them a beautiful memory that lasts a lifetime.