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We Could All Use a Little More Compassion: The Terrible Experience of Bringing My Child with Autism on the NY Subway

It was my son’s first time riding the train. Moist hair clung to the back of my neck and my son’s soft, clammy fingers intertwined tightly with mine, as we waited on the platform. Offering a quick reprieve from the oppressive heat, a streak of silver flashed toward us. Hoisting Genesis over the caution strip of concrete, we inhaled the refreshing coolness of the train.

I felt my son’s anxiety while he grasped my hand tightly. But his anxiety was mixed with excitement as the train began to glide through the underground realms. Armed with noise-cancelling headphones, he entered the same trancelike state I did as a child. But as the roaring engine pierced his focus, his voice squealed out into a yell.

The arms of my sweet baby began flailing. He hit himself and me. “Stop it, you have to be nice. You have to be nice, Genesis,” he frantically instructed himself. I knew he didn’t want to hit himself or me. I knew it was his brain. I knew there were some things we just couldn’t help.

Alert and attentive, I became aware that those around us didn’t have the same intuitive knowledge. Every eye in the cart was on my boy. “That’s why young mothers shouldn’t have kids,” one man whispered, though it was clear the whisper wasn’t intended to be kept to those in close proximity to him. Another woman blurted out, “You need to give him a whooping! That behavior is unacceptable.”

For those that did not speak harmful words aloud, they spoke with their bodies. Though the train carts were all packed, people evacuated around us, all the while smearing their faces with disproving glares.

“Don’t they know my child has a disability?” I thought, while my vision became blurry with tears. Gripping my child’s hand tightly, as the experts instructed, I sought to calm him down and provide safety. Rocking him gently and holding him tightly, I gave him the compassion the world around me did not.

I hummed the song his adoring grandma Paulette made up for him:

Thank you Jesus, for my baby boy.

Thank you, Jesus, continue to bless my baby boy.

Thank you, Jesus, love my baby boy.

Slowly, I felt his tense muscles begin to relax. Even at three-years-old, shame and confusion set in as he felt the commotion around him. “You have to be nice Genesis,” he continued to coo to himself.

“I’m sorry for this world I’ve brought you into, my son,” I whispered into his soft black curls. Anger came over me as I yearned to jump up and educate the strangers around me about the challenges of Autism. Though my blood boiled, I set aside my emotions as a mother must do and focused on my son.

While the strangers left the cart and continued with their day, I knew they could confine their encounter with the struggles of Autism to this single train ride. Didn’t they know of the daily sacrifices I made to protect my child, both emotionally and physically? Didn’t they know that I would carry this experience with me for years? Didn’t they know I would carry it as a weight on my heart and be unable to forget the humiliation and degrading scowls for years to come? No, they did not know.

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