Oli is 6 years old, blind and autistic. Her autism has left her non-verbal.
I know that I don’t really know what she thinks about, what she dreams about, or what she would want to say.
But because I am her mom, I get the honor of speaking for her until she finds her words.
Here is what I think Oli would want you to know about her.
“Hi! My name is Oli. I know that my mom gets this look from strangers when she tells them about me or when they meet me for the first time. She calls it “the look”. I don’t know what “the look” looks like because I can’t see it, but I know that it makes my mommy sad.
I know that it makes her sad because I can hear it in her voice when she talks about it. I can feel it in the way her shoulders sag when she thinks about it. And I can taste it in the tears that roll down her face when she cries about it when she thinks no one is looking. I’m looking. I’m always looking because I know my mommy better than she thinks I do.
I know that “the look” hurts my mommy’s feelings.
I also hear her talking about it with my daddy. I hear her tell him that this look means that people feel sorry for her. That they feel sorry for me.
Most importantly, I hear her tell daddy that people don’t need to feel sorry for her or for me. She also tells ME that I don’t need to feel sorry for MYSELF. That there is nothing wrong with me. I just do things differently than other children.
Despite our differences, I’m still a child.
I want you to know that the way I am… is not wrong. That the way your child is…is not right. It’s just different.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to feel sorry for me. You don’t need to pity my family. I am fine. I will do what I will do when the time is right. My parents will push me and advocate for me. They believe in me and I will do everything that I can in this life. My life is not sad. My life does not deserve your tears. It should be celebrated. Please don’t be sad for me.
I am only a child. A child with special needs yes, but still a child.
I know that I’m not the same as you. I know that there are things that I do that might seem strange. I don’t understand what they are, nor could I tell you why I do those things. All I can tell you is that I have to do them. That is just part of me.
I have a wonderful life. I live life to the fullest and I enjoy most of every day. I have good days and bad days just like every other 6 year old. I cry when I don’t get my way. I smile when I do. I throw tantrums when I don’t get what I want. I give kisses and hugs when I do. I don’t listen when I don’t want to do what you’re telling me to do. I listen when I do. I giggle. I test boundaries. I play. I am a child.
I am my parent’s child.
They are proud of me. They love me. They are not ashamed of me. They don’t feel sorry for me.
Neither should you.
Mommy and daddy bring new people into our house sometimes. New therapists, friends, and family I haven’t seen in a long time. I can feel their tension. Sometimes they don’t know what to do with me. How to touch me or talk to me. How to play with me.
I know that other people don’t understand my life, but you don’t need to feel uncomfortable around me. You don’t need to be frightened or nervous. Interacting with me cannot be done wrong.
I am a child.
I may be different than your child, but I am still a child.
I’m just Oli.”