This post is by Lindsey Cugini who is an active volunteer for Cleveland's Walk Now for Autism Speaks event.
I walk for my son Cade, my hero. Having a son with autism wasn’t exactly in the plan but God had something much better in mind for us by giving us Cade.
As a parent of a child with autism, I have countless stories of meltdowns and triumphs but one in particular always sticks out in my mind. I went to the grocery store with my kids. I absent mindedly put a gallon of milk in the back with Cade. Since Cade is nonverbal, his way of telling me he wanted milk was to pick up the gallon and shove it at me, dropping it on the floor. The entire gallon shattered, milk splashing everywhere. I was mortified.
At the check out counter, I apologized and offered to pay for the milk but the cashier refused. The woman in the next aisle happened to be purchasing a balloon bouquet. Cade loves balloons. He started squawking and squirming, trying to get out of the cart and I struggled to control his outburst. The cashier very loudly said to Cade “Haven’t you done enough?! Those aren’t your balloons! You sit down right now!”
My heart started pounding, my palms got sweaty. I wanted to reach across the counter and shake her, call her ignorant and tell her my son was a good boy who did not understand that those were not his balloons. But instead, I finished my transaction and rushed out of the store. I barely made it to the double doors before the tears started streaming down my face. At the car, I was struggling to get both my crying children in their car seats and put the groceries away so I could flee. I was mad. I was humiliated, for me and for Cade.
I was thinking about going back inside to give that woman a piece of my mind when a lady behind me startled me. She was holding the balloon bouquet. She said “These are for my granddaughter but I know she would want him to have one. Can I give it to him?” I was stunned. I was also incredibly grateful. She handed my little boy the balloon and you would have thought it was Christmas. All the tears were gone and his face lit up. I looked her in the eyes, took her hand and thanked her. As I drove home, I realized I could be like the cashier; negative, cruel and judgmental. Or I could choose to be like the balloon lady; compassionate, understanding and accepting. With such a small gesture, she restored my faith in people.
I know some people call autism a disability but it has actually shown us Cade’s abilities to overcome what seems impossible. He inspires me to be my best every day by trying to be more like him. He knows no prejudice or judgment. He accepts all people for exactly who they are without question. He is fun and carefree, sweet and loving. Cade has taught me more in his 3 short years than I learned in my entire boring 27 before him. Because of him, everyone around him is more patient, thoughtful, considerate and compassionate. I know having Cade as a big brother will make our daughter a better person. I walk because I have hope that someday my son will talk. I will always fight to give him a voice because I know he has so much to say. And while Cade has never told me he loves me, he does something much, much better: he shows me every single day. I love you, Cade. You are my inspiration and I will NEVER stop walking for you!
The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.