Worrying about your kids is a full-time job for any parent, but for some parents, concerns over whether your child will be accepted by their peers can be elevated. A new school year means lots of changes, which can be difficult for people with autism to deal with. New schedules, different classrooms, and unfamiliar classmates can feel more overwhelming for people with autism than others. Loud school bells and shouting at recess can create a stressful environment for people on the spectrum, which in turn, can make the common struggle of making new friends and paying attention in class even more difficult.
For one mom in Missouri, whose son is starting high school, these are concerns she knows well. Cara Thulin’s son Damien Gibson, who goes by Zeke, has autism and, like many people on the spectrum, struggles with social interaction. In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Thulin explains how an average school day can feel much different to Zeke than other students.
“His brain grew up differently than a lot of ours. It grew up focusing on protecting Zeke from being overwhelmed by sounds, and light, textures, and smells,” writes Thulin.
In the post directed to parents and students at Zeke’s school in Kickapoo, Thulin goes on to explain how Zeke’s attention can be swayed. “His senses are stronger than ours. And so while we were growing and paying attention to other babies…and learning how to behave and react…he was paying attention to the way sun hit his moms earrings, or how loud the dog was…and he missed out on all that social training we didn’t even realize we were getting.”
Thulin points out some of the ways Zeke may stand out from his classmates, writing “He runs to class, he doesn’t know his graduation year, he gets really confused in busy hallways, and he loves that he can tell what year you are by the color of your ID badge.”
Sharing a picture of Zeke’s ID badge in the post, Thulin encourages other students to engage with Zeke, writing “If you see this kid, say “Hi Zeke!” and don’t get offended if he doesn’t respond. He heard you. And he feels a little more confident now that someone knows his name. Ask if he’s doing okay, if he likes class, or if he has any questions. Compliment his band tshirts. He LOVES Panic! At the Disco. He may answer you. He may stare at the floor. He may run away. But he’ll know that you care. And I promise you, that will help him feel better than he feels when people laugh at him. Because he does notice when people laugh at him. He just doesn’t know why.”
Ending the post, which has already been shared 2,220 times, Thulin writes “I am raising a very VERY strong kid. Please do me a favor and raise very kind kids in return.”
The response to Thulin’s post has been overwhelmingly positive, with close to 300 comments and counting. Many parents are commending Thulin for sharing how to make Zeke’s transition to high school more comfortable, with commenters offering to send Zeke T-shirts of his favorite bands and share Thulin’s tips with their teenage children.
As the popularity of the post began to grow, Thulin admitted to the Kansas Star that she was concerned she had made Zeke’s high school experience worse, worried that having multiple kids say hi to Zeke in a short period of time would overwhelm him. Thankfully, that has not been the case. “They’ve all been kind, and helpful. Just treated him like one of the rest. It’s all I could have asked of them. Just to exist and go thru high school with him. With that extra bit of compassion that they wouldn’t have had before they knew he was autistic.”