The Stranger

My apologies in advance for being so reactive this week. First the Yummy Mummy essay, then Britney and now, this post.

It all started with reading Dear Stranger, written by a woman caught in the predicament of whether or not to tell a stranger (after meeting her child once) that her son was autistic. The author wrote that she was convinced, watching him. That as a mother of an autistic son, she knew.

I recognized this pattern of behaviors immediately: Ben was autistic. And his mother didn't know yet.

When I was fourteen-years-old, I went to youth group. I wasn't a Christian, but I was social and all of the kids in the neighborhood went. One day, a youth pastor took me aside and told me my father was going to hell if he didn't convert to Christianity. I never went back to youth group again and from that point forward wanted nothing to do with Christianity at all.

In retrospect I realize the youth pastor was just doing what he thought was right. He was trying to save our immortal souls because he believed it was the only way to get us into heaven, a place I never believed in anyway. I try to remind myself of this when anyone tries to accost me with Christian literature or pamphlets or preach to me in the streets. I try to remind myself that they think they are doing the right thing. That they truly believe it is their moral obligation to "save" me.

Not unlike parents who take it upon themselves to preach the word of "I know your child better than you know your child" I have since Archer's birth, tried to understand where these men and women are coming from. I figured because I had a child so young, it was natural to be talked down to. So I smiled and nodded. I listened to stranger's unsolicited advice. Over and over again. They were concerned parents. Concerned that my child was somehow their responsibility.

After reading the Babble article I tried to reconcile what bothered me so much about it. The woman was clearly conflicted. And she seemed like a good person. I read her essay several times through. And yet, something was so painfully frustrating about reading her words. Something so condescending and competitive. Something that made me protective of my son and myself and all parents with delayed children on the "spectrum."

I started thinking about what it is about mothers, parents, people, that we think everyone and everything is our business. Why must we believe that other people's children are our responsibilities? Indeed it takes a village... to criticize.

This idea ties into my last post: It is my business to know your business and your business to know mine. People are spending so much time worrying about other people's children that they are ignoring their own, punishing other parent's children on the playground while their children wander off. Offering diagnosis based on projected information. Comparing. Comparing. Comparing.

As a mother of a child on "the spectrum" I have become very sensitive to people who think it is their place to do me a favor and lend insight about my child. My complex, unique child. They see things in him that cause for concern. They SEE. With their eyes. For minutes. And from that, they can determine his fate. They just know. They can decide what he needs and how to help him.

My husband thought my silence in the music class represented a "moral failure." He didn't care how awkward it would have been to approach a total stranger, or how unlikely it was that she would take my word over that of her doctor, who obviously had never suggested a problem of this magnitude. "You have a responsibility to the child," he said, simply.

And I say simply back: No you don't. You have a responsibility to your children but not to mine. Because nothing is so black and white. And it isn't a moral failure to let another parent do their job.

Of course, it could be argued that plenty of people are in denial or don't want to face the fact that their child has a "problem" but to me, it's all very tree falls in a forest. What constitutes as a problem? What does it mean to be diagnosed? What about the children since the beginning of time who weren't (diagnosed)? Not ten minutes later after reading the Babble piece, a dear reader sent me the following link to a an essay she thought I would appreciate after my various posts on the subject of Archer's developmental delays, Early Intervention and testing.

It was exactly what I needed to read after the Babble essay. Especially the following passage:

So what do we do about the eighth grader who alienates peers with his obsessive talk of baroque architecture, or the 6-year-old who'd rather spend recess talking to the hamster than playing dress-up with her classmates? Is it possible we shouldn't do anything? "Of course it is a source of deep sorrow when it is obvious that a youngster can never lead 'a normal life' because of special needs," says Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child and adolescent psychiatrist whose books include "Raising Kids With Character."

*"All the same, there is something amiss when every mother is susceptible to fears whether or not this week's fashionable diagnosis applies to her child. There is something unexamined in our thinking when we elevate the need for normalcy to a state of spiritual grace, and live under a constant anxiety that we fail to measure up to its demands."

*The fashionability, or perhaps, obsession with normalcy is by far the issue that most infuriates me. The fear and anxiety placed on today's parents by doctors and books and peers who feel responsible for stranger's children, like the author of aforementioned Babble piece:

...Who better to help identify the tens of thousands of undiagnosed autistic toddlers and preschoolers out there than the parents who know autism better than any general practitioner — parents who have read the books, examined the research and seen firsthand the different manifestations autistic spectrum disorders can take?

While we're on the subject of unsolicited advice, I'll offer my opinion on who better to identify the tens of thousands of undiagnosed toddlers: the parents. Because Autism isn't black and white. And neither are children. And books and research and personal projections have nothing to do with my child or "Ben" or anyone else with "differences".

Parents will seek guidance when they are ready to do so. And if a parent chooses not to seek guidance, well then that is their decision, not the decision of a stranger.

To end on a high-note/Newsweek piece:

I eventually did consult experts. Some of what they said was helpful, but they offered no great, demystifying insights. I never really did expect anyone to totally peg my son; the fascinating little man changes on a daily basis. One day we call him Space Cookie, the next day Sweet Pea, the next our Tasmanian devil. But he is a whole person, the sum of all his average, stellar and quirky parts, and my job is much like any other parent's—to guide him when necessary, let go when I overdo it and constantly sweep for minefields (even ones I have inadvertently laid in his path) that threaten to obliterate his incredibly unique spirit. I can't wait to see who he becomes, this boy in a bright yellow canary suit, who insists on dancing to his own tune.

Eventually I consulted the experts as well. Experts as defined by me, the parent and much like the Newsweek author's experience, there was no real "diagnosis" for Archer. As I assumed, he was existing as he knew how to exist, happily, and in his own unique way. Even if that often meant spinning and wandering and laughing to himself in the corner...

Even if that meant looks from strangers making assessments, clutching their bibles.



Cate | 5:50 PM

Hi Rebecca, Love GCC & emailed you about the whole changes after pregnancy...thanks for responding. I was reading your latest post and I totally agree. My oldest child was "diagnosed" ADHD at the age of 5, and learning delayed at 6. By the end of second grade he was reading on a college level. I know that I know my children better than anyone else and that no one will ever love them as much as I would. I feel that opinions are like a***oles in that everyone has them and they are frequently full of it.
I think peopl who worry about others children are not thinking about their own enough, or have a skewed view of the world that gives them the feeling that their opinion means so very much to the rest of us.

I have friends, family, and professionals I can go to if I am worried about my children. Enough said.

Unknown | 5:57 PM

this entry really resonated with me on many levels - as a young mom, single mom, mom with a daughter who goes at her own speed, I felt a lot of these things and used to feel obligated to listen to everything anyone said about my life.

its much like the celebrity obsession IMO - its difficult for people to concern themselves with their own lives, children, etc and see their OWN reality, so to escape it, they focus on everyone else'.

Just know other moms know how you feel. Oh yeah, and that all Christians aren't so idiotic.


Amen and yeah, I have many an amazing Christian friend. Appreciate and respect everyone's beliefs so long as they aren't trying to manipulate me or force-feed me literature on the streets, etc.


Oh and P.S. Yes, BM! Total reality escapism. Good call.

Anonymous | 7:04 PM

I read that article on Babble and afterward wanted to take a shower. Or a long walk. Or a baseball bat to that stupid woman's head. Ok, that's a bit severe. But really. I truly don't understand what good she thought would come of her telling Ben's parents what SHE thinks of their son's perceived delay. Did she think it would help them? That their eyes would light up with recognition and gratitude? That her "advice" would help their son develop any more "normally"??? I highly doubt any of that. Ugh.

ImpostorMom | 7:11 PM

I don't think unsolicited advice has anything to do with your age as a mother. I think it just goes with the territory.

I try so hard not to be that mom. Not as bad as the article of course, that is way, way over the top. But you know one of those moms that has a suggestion for everything.

Don't get me wrong, I offer my friend's advice but I try and let it be when they ask and I would never, ever, ever offer a diagnosis to a complete stranger. Not only would it be none of my business but the stranger certainly wouldn't take my advice anyway. Just like the youth director telling you to find religion. All it did was make you never go back to the youth group again.

Domenica Cimarusti Pearl, EdD | 7:18 PM

I am 7 months preggers and yesterday in line at Stabucks, after ordering my non-decaf coffee, a lady came up to me and said, "You know, that probably isn't safe for you to drink while you are pregnant." I looked at her in shock and asked, "Are you a doctor?" She said no, and I responded, "Oh, because MY doctor said it okay for me to have one cafinated beverage a day, but thanks for your unwanted advice." She stormed off in a huff and I smiled the entire day...

Loved your post, xoxo,

Anonymous | 7:45 PM

awe I loved the post! And, that picture of you and Arch is gorgeous! xoxo

Sarah Isabella

PunditMom | 7:55 PM

This is such a beautiful and thoughtful post.

I think we are trained from the time we are young to think about what people say "normal" behavior is vs. what isn't. And that colors how we parent our children -- each unique. I struggle with that -- the conflict between what I was raised to think about how I was supposed to behave as a child and how PunditGirl behaves.

Regardless of what the measure of normalcy is, I just want her to be happy -- in her own way.

Unknown | 8:08 PM

Archer is very lucky to have you for his Mom. I just want to add a little history. I am 64, my intellegence is in the 95th percentile. I was FINALLY diagnosed with ADD with impulsivity in the past decade..8 years ago I think. When I was a child I and my parents heard from my teachers in each grade about my "potential", my "daydreaming", my "Interupting" and my diagnosis was basically laziness. Todays child is so fortunate that there are avenues and knowledge available to adaquately assist them in meeting their potential...whatever that may be. I never finished college and my years of experience is worthless in the job market. I mourn that I didn't come near my potential.

Mme | 8:22 PM

My son has cerebral palsy, but mild in a way that you wouldn't know what was up unless you had a child that had it too. My fear isn't that he won't have a normal life, but is how people will think less of him or treat him poorly because of it. I wish I could protect him from meanness and it kills me, destroys me that I know I won't be able to.

Sarcomical | 8:48 PM

hi, there. i found you through the lovely sarah at whoorl.

i don't have children yet, but when i do i want to be openminded enough to allow my children to BE, and i completely couldn't agree with this post more. it's always encouraging to see parents seeing their children as individuals, and not new little "normal" clones.

and of course, archer is just too cute! ;)

Anonymous | 9:34 PM

awesome post.

Anonymous | 10:25 PM

I had no idea what autism was when my daughter was little. It was pointed out to me by a woman similar to our Babble writer, and at that time I had no idea. My point is, teachers complained. And complained more. It was a long path to the autistic diagnosis because I wasn't aware of autism and its manifestations. I am certainly not saying we need these moms out there diagnosing kids, which is awful, I am saying i wish someone HAD, and EARLIER. But, my daughter wasnt like archer. She fit all the textbook autism stuff... I wonder why it took so long. I could say it was my responsibility but was it? I took her to doctors and answered all the she never points, no she doesn't interact with other kids, a weird crawl, flapping on her toes...

Perhaps this babble mom is responding to our maybe awful health care system? I dont know.

Anonymous | 10:27 PM

I feel like i am always thanking you for yet another brilliantly written post. I wrote a response to the babble article as well, because I was offended by the autjor's husband calling it her "moral obligation" to talk to Ben's mother. What rot. As a mom with a child on the spectrum, I know all about the sideways glances and the knowing looks and the avoidance from other parents. Eff them. I certainly don't want one of them coming up to me and telling me what is wrong with my son. No thanks.

Anonymous | 11:55 PM

hi, nice post :) I'm glad you liked the article.
xo mfk

Anonymous | 1:00 AM

I could not agree with you more. I went to try and comment on the babble article, but it wouldn't let me register to comment after two tries, and I have a very short attention span. :)

My son is on the spectrum (Asperger's). He was originally diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. I have know that he related to the world in his own way since birth. I lived it with him everyday. I would not have appreciated some mother at music class coming up and informing me that my son was autistic.

Perhaps that mom did know that something was unique about her son. Perhaps he was already in the process of being evaluated.....and she had just decided that her son's diagnosis was no one's business. Especially a bunch of strangers at a mommy'n'me class. The writer of the article assumed from the mom's reaction to the ADHD comment, that she had no clue about her son. Interesting, considering I may have responded in a similar way as that mom, had I been in that situation...and my son is on the spectrum.

Lousy assumption. As is the assumption that as a parent of a child who has been diagnosed with something as varied as autism (hello? spectrum) that you would be qualified to diagnos the child of a complete stranger after seeing them in a class for a few minutes.

It wasn't the only part of her article that rubbed me the wrong way. I may just have to take this to my own blog. :)

Anonymous | 1:03 AM

You know, I nearly sent you a link to that Newsweek article myself, thinking you would find it interesting. I'm glad someone did.

My son's not quite a year yet, and still I find myself feeling like I need to explain him to every stranger on the street he doesn't chortle at inanely.

"He can't hear you." "He's a thinker."

It makes me angry and defensive when they look at me as though my child is sad and I have made him that way.

I hate that at only 11 mths old my son is already misunderstood, that he and I are both judged because he doesn't perform on cue.

His hearing was repaired with his cleft palate surgery and he will now turn to look when someone speaks to him. Sometimes. If he feels like it. He's still a thinker.

Knowing that I have to deal with the speech delay and possibly years of speech therapy ahead of me makes me anxious. Not because of the process, but because of how people will behave toward him and the ignorant assumptions they will make.

And then I think how glad I am to have a son who is a thinker, who likes his own mind, because everyone faces hard times in their lives and those character traits will stand him in good stead.

When did we decide that children, even infants, do not have personalities?

Mom101 | 6:24 AM

Bravo Rebecca. This is the maturity of thinking and eloquence of voice, even while revealing something so personal and immediate, that makes me love you.

Anonymous | 8:15 AM

That was a beautiful post. I, too, read the Babble piece and was surprised by the father's statement that it was a "moral failure". How can keeping your opinion to yourself be a moral failure? Isn't that called being polite and socially acceptable? Sure, she can have her opinion, but it doesn't need to be shoved onto everyone. Sometimes kids are different, but being different is what makes them great. It's wonderful to be different, it's what makes us unique and special and beautiful. And maybe that different looks "wrong" to you, but that doesn't make it not okay. That's the worst part about trendy diagnoses - as soon as a child exhibits anything different, immediately it's "bipolar" or "autistic" or "ADD" or whatever the diagnosis of the moment is. People forget that there is such a huge spectrum of behaviors, that sometimes you can exhibit something unusual and still be totally normal.

Chris | 9:36 AM

This is a very powerful post, Rebecca. Thank you for writing it.

motherbumper | 11:19 AM

Excellent post, informative, balanced and so much more. I'm in complete agreement with the "fashionable diagnosis" syndrome that is so prevalent today. Damn, I love reading your posts.

Anonymous | 3:09 PM

I really appreciate this post. A few years back, I babysat regularly for a deaf girl and her two hearing brothers. Since her parents were hearing and not fluent in ASL, I could tell that the little girl (3 at the time), had a language delay and it was not because of the family only recently learning was more than that. I suspected she was autistic but being that I was only a college student, not an expert, I said nothing. A couple months later, the mother informed me that they recently found out she was mildly autistic. I was relieved that they sought help on their own and now their daughter is a beautiful and smart and articulate (in both voice and sign) 10-year-old. Your post today reminds me that even though I was right in guessing that little girl's situation, it does not mean that I have a right to voice my suspicions outloud. I'll keep them to myself and hope that other people will do the same for me when it comes to my child.

Anonymous | 6:04 PM

I read that piece also and not only did I think of you(loyal reader lately) but that as a child with disabilities this woman was WAY off the mark.

I have a ten yr old who has been through the ringer over the years. He is diagnosed with ADHD, Anxiety issues and mild OCD. Now his new dr thinks he could be bipolar this whole time but thinks it's fun to sit around and wait month after month instead of changing his freaking meds. In the meantime I have spent the better part of the last 5 yrs "explaining" my son to people. Constantly apologizing for him.

He's different. But he's sweet. And with all the so called new info and experts out there daily, and of course the well meaning relatives who send me links to articles-I can't help but feel overwhelmed and fearful. Fearful that my son will never be "normal". But what the hell IS normal these days?

Is it something that we try to convert to so that everyone else is less afraid of themselves? I don't get it. I wasn't normal when I was a kid, I was a daydreamer etc. Now dr's say I could have been ADD and probably am(explains why I have the attention span of a gnat at times).

Anyways, the point is people need to stay out of other people's business unless there is a clear sign of something wrong.

And maybe we can also be a bit more patient and understanding and caring with one another and children. I know sometimes I want to whack other parents upside their head for the stuff they try to stuff down my throat.

I just want you to know you're right on, and I love reading you and this has inspired me to write about my own kids, most especially my son and my difficulties raising him in this world with his problems.

Anonymous | 6:06 PM

I mean to write "myself a mother of a child with disabilities".

Sara | 6:30 PM

I recently completed a graduate program in eduation. One of my classmates has a child with autism and thus she became the "expert" on all disabilities. It drove all of us a bit batty as we would frequently bask in the glory of her knowledge. It was sad, really, to see her stress about her own life reflected on the whole of education, on all children. My husband is an ex-special ed teacher and sometimes he can diagnose children in public places. The difference is that he, and I, don't feel a moral obligation to "help" others with our so-called knowledge. As with other parenting issues, there are always many sides to a story. As you say, if we are constantly judging and defining, then we are surely missing out on what is so awesome.
I really enjoy reading the way you express your frustration and confusion about this topic -- as well as the confidence in and wonder over your son. It's truly beautiful.

Tiffany | 7:11 PM

Love how your not afraid to post these kind of topics.

I can relate to you, I got pregnant the first time at 17, and I can tell you some serious stories about people talking down to me assuming I didn't know what I was doing. Nevermind that I had raised my sister and done the "mom" duties at him since I was 11.

As this woman pointed out, she didn't know this mom very well. I'm curious how she didn't know that the mom was already thinking autism?

I wonder at what point, people decide to be a savior for another person, but freeing them from their problems, or the disabilities of their children.

Do I think all strangers should mind their own buisness? For the most part yes. Simply because they are just that, a stranger.

Stimey | 9:19 PM

I agree with those commenters above who say moral failure is strong language and who point out that the mom may have information on autism but may not want to share her private situation with a stranger.

I also have a son who I believe to be autistic. He has not yet been officially diagnosed, but he is at the very least developmentally delayed, and I know in my heart that he is on the spectrum.

I don't offer this information up to strangers, but with acquaintances I will mention it because it is a big part of who he is. I take just as much offense to people who brush off my assertion that he is on the spectrum with comment like, "Oh, that's just the diagnosis they give everyone these days," or "I'm sure he'll grow out of it," or otherwise discount what I know about MY child.

This is not something I've just thought up and decided to toss casually around. It is who he is and I am proud of who he is. I don't need to be assured that he is not autistic. I don't care if he is or isn't. I just want him to continue to be the happy little dude he is.

I agree with you that it is highly irritating for other mothers to assume they know their child more than you do, even if they have the best of intentions.

Guess you hit a nerve with me. Keep on rockin'.

Meemo | 9:32 PM

The biggest issue that I have with other parents'unsolicited advice is that they always seem to do it right in front of the child. My son is very small for his age and people are always pointing that out in front of him. They'll look at me and ask if he's my oldest with a look of utter surprise on their faces. People are rude, and strange.

Anonymous | 9:59 PM

GGC, you have some really relevant points. If only all parents sought out ANY kind of experts. So many parents don't and do their children a huge disservice by not getting them early interventions, which are highly effective.

The woman in the article, however, was in no position to lend her "expertise." Her sample is that of one. She has no basis to be making such a diagnosis -- especially since autism is so very difficult to diagnose, even for "experts."

You mention that parents know their children best. That is true. To a certain extent.

I've worked with parents who seem to subconsciously work around their child's disorder. I once worked with a child who had Aspergers. His family had simply decided he was just "too smart and quirky" and so learned to accept this about him, figuring out ways to communicate with him that were very out of the norm. Unfortunately, his teachers were unable to do the same in a class with 25 other kids. When the teachers expressed concern about his behavior, the parents did not listen. They simply told the teachers they weren't communicating with their child in the "right" way. So the child went without treatment for several years. This only hurt the child.

Parents do know their children best -- but in a specific context. How children behave in school, with grandma, the sitter, or peers can often surprise parents. Thus, It is in the child's best interest for parents to keep this in mind. That way, parents don't immediately dismiss what can be vital information from outside resources.

Sometimes, we parents are simply too close to our children to see things that could potentially be painful.

And -- to be clear -- I'm not suggesting you're dong this Archer. I only mention this as a point to keep in mind for all parents.

Heather | 4:47 AM

These are the kind of posts I love to read. As a mom of a "quirky" kid who is choosing not to have him evaluated, I get so tired of the articles that are emailed to me from readers in support of dx'ing. I KNOW the benefits of it and it's a fine route for those who want it. I just believe it isn't the ONLY route for these types of kids.

I don't believe I have to have a label to improve his strengths and weaknesses. Come on, it's that the job of every parent for each child? To support their strengths and improve their weaknesses? I see my son and I see him more completely than any person who would evaluate him. I see all that he is and I work with him.

Thanks for writing this Rebecca. I find it so supportive on my journey with my son.

Fairly Odd Mother | 4:49 AM

Last night, I caught a portion of an NPR program about Asperger's. . .the interesting thing was that they interviewed a bunch of adults who had it and asked if they wished they had been 'cured' of their 'disorder'. None (or close to none) had wished this. They all felt like they had something that had allowed them to develop into someone unique and special.

Eliza | 3:29 PM

I never thought there was anything different about my chidren; they were just like me. It took a relative stranger having the balls to say something to clue me in and I was grateful to her for it. I've never done that for anyone, though. If friends ask me, I give an opinion, but if's not an easy one, is it? But so far no.

Anonymous | 6:20 PM

It's uncanny because I read the Newsweek article the day I got the magazine and I found the link online and E-mailed it to all my family and friends. It so perfectly stated what I couldn't articulate about my experience with my son. Just know that you are the best mom in the world to Archer and he is so damn lucky to have you fighting in his corner. I was going to write more but then realized you don't want a book in your comments - lol - off to write a post, I think!

Anonymous | 7:20 PM

Nice GGC. Love this.

Anonymous | 9:16 PM

just wrote my own post the other day about how hard it was to tell a mom that i thought her son could benefit from an evaluation. i am a preschool teacher and it actually is my responsiblity to have that sort of conversation. i hate it. it's the worst part of the job. it's not something i take lightly. not something i would ever do to someone on the street. i have been thanked for helping and hugged for being able to say the hardest thing but it doesn't make it easier. early intervention is best, i can see how someone might feel obligated to try and help someone out but wow- the size of the balls they must have. i can see both sides but personally would never tell a stranger. anyone who would has never had to have that converstation before.

Anonymous | 9:16 PM

or conversation either. ~jjlibra

Anonymous | 8:48 AM

You know, this really hits me. Not because I have a child with special needs, but because I've been the "whispered to" one when someone, in this case my cousin-in-law's girlfriend who works at an autistic center for children, decided another child in our acquaintance was autistic.

It is no one's business but the parents of the child in question. I couldn't pinpoint what made me so uncomfortable about being told that some friends' son was "definitely autistic," said with such perceived self-authority after she'd only been at the autism center a few months. But you say it so well here.

In many ways, I don't think the "village mentality" stops with parenting, though it's definitely the most buzzed about topic by the village. I think as a nation, we've simply become more nosy, more "responsible" for our fellow man. The examples the woman in the Babble article used to say she wouldn't hesitate to intervene were all to do with immediate danger: someone stepping into traffic, someone with a bruise that could be a tumor, and such. Those instances, sure, it's a matter of life or death. But really, equating that to a unprofessional diagnosis of another child is just what my relative's girlfriend did, and it leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Anonymous | 9:17 AM

I took a gym teacher to task for telling my friend she thought her son was neurologically impaired. this gym teacher had no training, no qualifications and no authority to diagnose a child. She just liked the feeling of importance she got from getting in somebody's business.
There was nothing wrong with the child in question. He was just clumsy and didn't like gym. Who can blame him with a bitch like that for a teacher?

Anonymous | 1:39 PM

Ooh anonymous- any teacher should know that we cannot diagnose. all we can do is recommend an evaluation. although i have had my suspicions and most have been correct, i NEVER say what i think it is. i only report the facts and suggest an evaluation by someone who is qualified to diagnose. good for you for getting on that gym teacher- she deserved it!

Jill | 7:50 PM

As the mother of two "special needs" adopted boys of another race I know the feeling. What I get defensive about are the judgy judgers who think that all academic and behavioral issues could be corrected with better parenting. I hear it coming out of people's mouth's all the time "If parents would just hold their children more accountable, blah, blah, blah." Like anyone can ever really know what goes on in a family such that they are in a position to judge. On the other hand, I am eternally grateful to the handful of teachers and coaches over the years who have looked to bring out the best in my boys in a way that is positive and nonjudgmental in spite of the challenges. It really does take a village, it's just too bad that some of the villagers are so small minded.

kittenpie | 11:43 AM

I do wonder why the concern abou the "tens of thousands of undiagnosed toddlers." Because you know, if there was a problem of a magnitude that NEEDED to be addressed, there would be a diagnosis. If it's a child who is just very mildly different, maybe a touch withdrawn or has a few quirks, why is it of concern for that child not to be diagnosed? Why do we need to put a label on someone who is going along okay, really? There are and have always been plenty of people who are this way, and they had, previously, just been left to their eccentricities, their habits, and so on, as long as they were able to make their way in the world. And most of them do that just fine. why not concentrate on helping those kids who really need it and can't get services? how about that?

Anonymous | 12:43 PM

I am going to go against the grain a bit. No, a lot. So, are you saying everyone should butt out and mind their own business? Keep their blinders on? Don't look out for others.. children included? That is insane to me. I try to be aware of my surrounds and aware of others. If I felt a child seemed to be acting in a strange way.. be it cowering away from someone (could they possibly be abused at home or else where?), unexplained vomiting that lingered (hello, cancer!), or spinning/pointing/no eye contact (possible autism) then I may or may not mention it to the care taker but if I didn't it would eat at me because I would worry for the well being of the child. If I did say something, it would be in a judgemental way, it would be because I would want the child to get the help and assistance he/she needed.. if any were needed at all. I am no doctor, but if I could help a child in anyway I would. Damn the parent that got in the way. People give me unsolicited advice all the time. I have never been rude to any of them. I take their advice and put it to use if I find it suitable or file it in my mental trash can if I feel it is bunk. Why take offense? It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Anonymous | 3:16 PM

The part that is hard for me to understand is the notion of "normalcy" and its effect on people. I didn't realize until I was an adult how hard it is for a lot of people to stand out from the crowd... like it is almost physically uncomfortable for them to break from the "norm". I even had a co-worker confess to me how much he wished he could stop thinking about what everyone would think. I think in a lot of ways this fear drives people's opinion about normalcy.

But at the same time, some of the same people who want to step in and make sure your kid is "diagnosed" properly are the ones who just want that label in place. Because that label makes them feel better about not being able to deal with a "quirky" person. In fact, sometimes that label is the reason they can safely ignore the "quirky" people.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to sound bitter. I've just seen both sides. You want help so your kids can be the best they can be, but you also want support for your kids, and yet there is always going to be those who won't support the "labeled". I wouldn't ever approach a stranger to give them my pop analysis on their kid. But I also see a lot of people/kids who are quirky or with special needs out in public where everyone else is pretending not to see them. I know it isn't much but I will always make an effort to see them.

Normalcy is fucking overrated.

Anonymous | 8:22 PM

"It takes a village to criticize." Spot on. A friend of mine told me of a man who told her in the playground that, from observing her child, he thought he might be "on the spectrum" (because this man's kid supposedly was). As you said, what some stranger sees of one's child in a matter of minutes is meaningless. And advice from strangers, equally and utterly so.

Anonymous | 3:23 PM

I may be a bit late to the discussion...just discovered it today (October!). Like the previous anonymous writer, I'm going to go against the grain. I'm a bit surprised at the anger directed at the writer of the Babble piece. The whole essay is ABOUT how conflicted she feels, and how she is trying (thoughtfully) to parse the difference between preventing a kid from being hit by a car and preventing another kid from going too long before being diagnosed with a life-changing health problem. She is suggesting an evaluation for the child, not a full-on attack on autism. She's not claiming to be an authority on childhood development, just a belatedly experienced parent who--like many parents--sees signs that only in hindsight does she recognize as troubling. In fact, she's positioning herself as a woman who was once just like this mother--and wishes someone had told her earlier.

I'm a bit concerned about how many posters are claiming that parents almost invariably know what's best for their child, and that this woman has probably already gotten a diagnosis, and that the author should just mind her beeswax, etc., etc. But the papers are full of evidence that parents don't always know what's best for their children. I see parents on my street all the time at midnight with strollers, or cursing in terrible, demeaning ways at their kids in the grocery store. The day after the Minneapolis bridge collapse, I was in a Burger King where a mother lectured her 7- or 8-year-old kids about how you can't trust anybody, and that the bridge inspectors must have taken bribes, because that's what bridge inspectors do. Scary. And never mind all sorts of forms of horrific physical abuse. Even if we actively strive to be good parents, we still learn parenting by accident, in dribs and drabs, and we aren't always as expert as we think we are. Yes, that goes for the Babble writer (as many posters here rushed to say), but that also goes for the stranger she agonized over.

M | 3:14 AM

I feel similarly to the last two anon. commenters. I feel that adults do have an obligation to the children in their community to look out for them.

And, unfortunately, not all parents always know what is best and do what is best for their children. If this were so, we would not need CPS and child abuse laws and so on.

Remaining closed off to others' suggestions or comments might do a disservice to the child, who may actually benefit from the suggestion, regardless of how intrusive or tactless it may seem to the parent.

And the best interest of the child is what this is about, and thus even intrusive comments may be appropriate if they are made with that intention.

What parent is always right about his or her child's needs? Ask any teen or adult where their parents went wrong and you'll likely have a long list of answers. What's wrong with a system of checks and balances that allows for other input and other perspectives that may help the child?

Sometimes we can't see what's right in front of us for being too close to it, and an outside perspective is exactly what we need--whether we realize it or not.

This post moved me so much that I was inspired to write a post on my own blog based on it.

I think children deserve to have many eyes looking out for their best interest, and on many occasions such concerned eyes and hearts have had great impact on children, even to the point of saving their lives, rescuing them from abducters, and keeping them from ongoing harm.

It is always better to be safe than sorry when the welfare of a child (or anyone really) is involved, I believe. It's easy to dismiss unneeded advice, but not so easy to go back in time to erase mistake that was not acted upon till it was too late.

I am neither defending nor attacking the situation described by person who wrote the original piece that inspired this post, but I do believe her heart was in the right place--looking out for a child--and that is always something to be admired and treasured.


What I find unbelievable is that a child with developmental delays that need pointing out (by a stranger, again. A stranger) is being compared to a child being abused that needs rescuing. Whaaaa?

Anonymous | 1:04 PM

They're just pointing out the fact that parents do NOT always know what's best for their kids and that sometimes parents choose, either willingly or unintentionally, to ignore certain things in their quest to present that "perfect family." For example, the father that refuses to believe that his child is on the spectrum, or the mother that refused to believe her daughters are being sexually abused by her husband. Two total and completely different situations, but two situations where parents are "blind" to the situation at hand, in the need to present a normal, unflawed family.

That being said, I don't think it would be any of the Babble writer's business to go up to a perfect stranger she's never met and bluntly say, "Your son has autism." Because she's not a professional health care provider. All she has is her own experience to go by. But, as others have pointed out, some people aren't aware of what autism looks like and would have liked a little direction from someone in their child's earlier years. I do think, in the end, she handled it pretty well, saying the boy reminded her of her own son and then making a suggestion that didn't even have the tones of the term "autism."

Anonymous | 11:46 AM

I was under the impression that it was an idea she contemplated solely because early intervention was so critical for these kids, and drs. are failing at that. Maybe her mistake is that she assumed the mom wasn't aware or figuring it out. I hate when people assume you aren't addressing something in your own way, just because they don't know.

My son isn't on the spectrum but has issues that I have struggled, fought, and begged to figure out and in my experience, healthcare providers suck at helping if you aren't a textbook case, so perhaps in the end some parents are the best first step of help.

I've recently been intrigued by babble, but it is not impressive. A lot of poor writing, poor editing. I thought this piece was better than most though.

Anonymous | 11:49 AM

Someone mentioned that she is ultimatey "looking out for a child." I think people often criticize parents under the guise of protecting the child, and it's BS. You can tell by the demeanor and how they offer it that it comes from a place of judging you and not concern for the kid. But in this instance...blaming the parent is obviously not even on the table. So I do truly think she is thinking of the kid here.