I saw you approach my 13-year-old son, who was sitting on a reclining lounge chair poolside. You have no idea how difficult it is for him to relax and how happy I was that he was resting. I was sitting behind him at the round table with my husband and father-in-law. My niece and the rest of my family were swimming in the pool.
I was shocked when you spoke harshly to my son. You see, most people treat him with kindness.
I heard you yell, “You had better stop staring at teenage girls, or you will be considered a stalker. I know because my husband is in law enforcement!”
I was shocked by the nasty tone you used when you leaned down and yelled at him. My son didn’t know why you had confronted him. My husband’s blood pressure escalated in a few seconds, he said. He’s the one who shouted, “Hey, he has autism!” as you exited.
“Well, you need to talk to him!” you said. You left the pool with three girls. I assume they are your daughters.
It seemed like a bad dream.
We had stayed overnight at the hotel because we were in town for a family Christmas. My son loves to stay there because it’s a reprieve from the rest of the family and the holiday chaos – the hotel is quiet and calming. Plus he can enjoy the breakfast buffet in the morning and go for a swim in the pool. The hotel stay was part of his Christmas gift.
You didn’t know my son had been swimming earlier in the morning with two younger boys. They had fun jumping in the water together. When they left, my son was visibly saddened. He couldn’t tell us how he felt because he doesn’t talk like you and I do. His communication is limited, even when he uses his speech generating device.
My son was upset his brothers were not with him at the pool. They were on their way, but that didn’t matter. He wanted them there immediately. You see, his brothers had stayed overnight at their grandparents’ home because they needed a break from him. They wanted to experience a regular “kid” holiday. They wanted to spend time with their cousins and stay up late – two things that are difficult to do at our house because it’s not in my son’s routine.
My son changed out of his swimming trunks and into regular clothes. When we returned to the pool, your three daughters were there. They were the only ones swimming. My son grabbed a towel and sat down on the edge of the pool and dangled his feet in the water for a few minutes. He may have looked at your daughters. I don’t remember. I watched them for a bit myself because they were the only ones in the water.
A few minutes later, the rest of my family arrived and got into the water. My son exited, walked down the hallway, and looked into the pool. He did this earlier when the pool was empty. He likes looking through the windows. He entered the adjoining exercise room and peered into the pool. He did the same thing earlier when the pool was empty. I don’t know if he looked at your daughters. He looked at his brothers and his cousin, who waved to him.
He was happy to see his family swimming in the pool.
He didn’t want to get into the water, so he sat on the reclining lounge chair and watched. It is nearly impossible for him to relax and sit for a while. I don’t know if he looked at your daughters, but he was busy watching his brothers and his cousin swim.
I don’t know where you were – you came in a few minutes before your daughters left. I’m not sure what your daughter(s) told you. They may have said, “That weird boy was staring at us.” They may have said, “That boy is a pervert.” They may have said, “That weird boy makes me feel uncomfortable.” They may have said, “He is a stalker.” They may have said nothing. You may have come to that conclusion on your own.
I was shocked by the words that flew out of your mouth. You were angry.
You didn’t know my son stares at a lot of things. He will stand at the counter of a fast-food restaurant and stare into the kitchen or the drive thru to see what is happening. He may giggle occasionally at inappropriate times. In grocery stores, he watches cashiers. He watches conveyor belts move and receipts rise out of machines. He laughs out loud when he hears a voice speak through an intercom. He watches garage doors open and shut. It’s what he does. He observes. In many cases, that’s how he learns.
If he were watching your girls, it’s because he might wish to interact with them in some way. He may have been looking at the water and how it moved and rippled when your daughters swam. He may have been looking at your daughters and was thinking how easily it is for them to form words with their mouths. He may have been wondering how he could befriend your girls. You see, he doesn’t know how. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. If one of your daughters caught his eye, it’s likely he didn’t look away because he doesn’t understand social cues.
Like my husband told you, my son has autism. His disability is not obvious; he looks like any other kid.
You didn’t know my son has a severe disability. For years he had difficulty sleeping. He has sensory issues. He struggles to communicate. He can’t tie his shoes. You didn’t know about his OCD tendencies, his anxiety, or the low score on his latest IQ test. You didn’t know how he cackles when he hears the sound of a toaster launching bread in the air or that he is obsessed with the ice machine in his classroom at school. You didn’t know he loves wearing blue boots and riding elevators. You didn’t know he likes to put his head on my shoulder and listen to country music in the van. You didn’t know my son.
I’m sorry if your girls were uncomfortable. If I had known – remember, my husband and I were with our son the entire time – we could have addressed the issue.
We could have educated your daughters about our son and his autism. We could have tried to educate him on the inappropriateness of his actions. And although I didn’t see anything inappropriate, he’s 13 and is curious about female bodies just like most other 13-year-old boys. I am sorry if his look lingered a bit too long or if a smile was misinterpreted. We could have apologized.
I wish you had said, “I’m concerned. My girls said they feel uncomfortable. I noticed your son staring at them. Can we talk about this?”
I wish you had said, “Oh, I didn’t realize he has a disability. Can I ask some questions?”
After you left, my husband was angry. I told him to calm down. I said you jumped to conclusions. I said you didn’t handle the situation well. I said you didn’t understand autism. I may have said you were nuts, and I didn’t want to waste my energy on you.
My father-in-law said, “I’ve met a lot of people in my lifetime who I wished I had never met.”
I knew exactly what he was saying. He, too, was flabbergasted by the scene. I think he felt terrible, just like we did. My niece asked what happened and was shocked, too, by your accusations.
My son goes to the pool almost every day during the summer. He participates in swimming lessons. He swims at school. Nobody has ever accused him of being a stalker. Nobody has ever talked to him in a threatening way like you did at the hotel pool.
We will talk to his teacher and school psychologist because I bet this is a common occurrence with boys on the autism spectrum. Once they reach a certain age, a blank stare could be perceived as a threat, as intense interest, or aggression. My son doesn’t always respond when someone talks to him. It could have dire consequences. Now that my son is older, this is our reality: his actions may be misinterpreted and misunderstood by the general public, law enforcement, or guests at the hotel pool.
I almost ran after you when you left the pool with your daughters, but I wanted to talk calmly, and I didn’t think that was your style. More than anything, I was confused. So I sat there, sipping my coffee and decided you would be back if you wanted to sit down and talk about the situation. It’s possible we could have learned a bit from each other.
My husband and I were waiting. You never returned. I wasn’t surprised.
It’s difficult to educate people who are unwilling to learn. I hope you do better next time once you have all the facts. You didn’t know a lot of things. And sadly, you still don’t.