Dear Annie: My husband and I have been married for 20 years. We have two boys, and the oldest is non-verbal autistic. “Austin” can write, and he wears a talking device around his neck. He likes to shop and enjoys eating different things. But it makes me sad and angry when people stare at us.
I have had strangers tell me I shouldn’t take Austin out of the house, that I’m a bad parent if I don’t do a gluten-free diet and various other pieces of unwelcome advice. I know some people think we somehow caused this to happen, but we didn’t ask for this, and people need to realize what a miracle it is to have a child who is developmentally normal. We have one of each, and I feel blessed to say that.
Our society doesn’t offer enough support to families that are different. Our youngest son tries to make friends, and no one calls back. I have reached out to neighbors, and nothing happens. Support groups have meetings that are often held at times that don’t work for me, and worse, if you have different opinions about what causes autism, you are ignored. I will not give up hope that things can change, because we have come so far. Thanks for letting me vent. — Sunshine
Dear Sunshine: This must be so difficult for you. There is no excuse for people who are rude enough to criticize your parenting or have the nerve to suggest that the boy be confined to the home. Ignore them. Professionals don’t know what causes autism. Some children respond to dietary changes, but not all. And we know that many people continue to believe that autism is a result of childhood vaccines, even though the original “research” is now considered questionable at best.
We understand how much parents want to protect their children and, in some cases, are looking to place blame. If the support groups in your area are not your cup of tea, please try the Autism Society of America (autism-society.org) or Autism Speaks (autismspeaks.org) for more opportunities to connect, perhaps online.
Dear Annie: May I make another suggestion for holiday gifts for teachers? When I worked in the counseling office at a high school, my most treasured gifts were the thank-you notes written either by the parents or the students. Mugs, scented candles and school-themed note pads can pile up in the closet, but those notes I will keep forever. Knowing your efforts are appreciated is priceless. — Mrs. G.
Dear Mrs. G: Thank you for giving our readers a gift idea that costs nothing and brings so much satisfaction. Teachers have often told us how meaningful these notes are. Please, readers, if a teacher has meant something special to you, let him or her know. It’s one of the nicest gifts you can give.
Dear Annie: I could not disagree more with your comments to “Enough,” who said he would not date a woman he was not physically attracted to. You said this was a superficial reason, but his choice.
I agree that it is his choice, but superficial? Not at all. I have been there. I ended a relationship because I was not attracted to him “that way.” Hearing that he was shopping for an engagement ring didn’t change my mind. My family asked how I’d feel if he turned out to be my only option, and I said that was no reason to be with someone. Two weeks later, my now-husband asked me out. — History Lesson
Dear History: You are confusing attraction with superficiality. It’s understandable not to continue to date someone you aren’t attracted to. But “Enough” refused to even meet women who didn’t match his criteria for beauty. This is superficial — meaning the surface appearance is more important than what’s inside.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.