Autism, You Are an Invisible Disability but I See You


Autism, you are an invisible disability hidden to the outside world, however so apparent in my day-to-day life.  

I was standing outside the Jay Peak Water Park. I had frizzy wet hair, a blank look on my face, and a two-year-old on my hip. Behind me was a seven-year-old boy who was crying and shouting things that a seven-year-old boy shouldn’t shout at his mother. That was my 7-year-old, and I was wishing for my, “Calgon take me away” moment, preferably to Aruba, poolside, with some nice eye candy, and a fruity drink.

palms, blue sky

You saw me, and you stared at me as you got into your car. I already knew what you were thinking based on your look. You were thinking…

What is wrong with that mother?

Why isn’t she doing anything?

If that was my kid… I would…

What an entitled, spoiled, brat.

To add insult to injury, when you got into your car, you looked at your significant other, pointed and mouthed, “Look at that kid, thank God he isn’t ours.” I saw it, all of it.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time or the last time that I will see that look or witness someone’s judgment when it comes to my son, and honestly, I understand where the judgment is coming from.

I used to feel the same way when I saw a kid acting out in public. I used to think that when I became a mother, I would never have a kid who acted like that. I used to think that my child would never misbehave in public.

Then I become a mother and I quickly realized that your real child is a whole lot different than your make-believe child.

While you saw my son crying and screaming at me outside the Jay Peak Water Park, you didn’t see is his invisible disability. See, my son is on the Autism Spectrum.

You thought you saw a bratty, entitled, out of control child, but what you really saw was confusion, rigidity, frustration, lack of communication, and fear.  

I know, it is hard to separate the behaviors that you saw. I completely understand that my son’s disability is invisible at the moment. I acknowledge that doesn’t have a wheelchair, braces, or beautiful almond shaped eyes to let the public know that he is different but still equal. His Autism is a completely invisible disability.

See, my little boy was excited. He knew that he was staying at the waterpark overnight for his friend’s birthday. What that little boy thought was happening was that he was going to stay in the water park overnight and that he wasn’t going to leave the water park until the morning. He didn’t realize that he had to leave the water park to check into a hotel room and that is where we would stay for the night. He thought that because we were getting into the car, he had to go home. He didn’t understand.

jay peak water park
Photo Courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Please trust me, I tried to explain the nuances of the situation to my son. I tried to explain that we couldn’t stay in waterpark overnight. I tried to explain that the water park closes at 10:00 pm. I explained that it wouldn’t be safe, or comfortable to stay in the water park all night. I explained that we were leaving the park to check into our hotel room, eat, and that we would go back to the waterpark that night. I did my best, but sometimes his brain holds on to the most literal explanation and refuses to budge.

Just like I have painstakingly tried to explain every other confusion situation over the past seven years of his life, but what I have slowly learned is that he isn’t listening. His invisible disability has taken over and he just can’t process all of the information I provide. When I keep talking, it only makes the situation escalate.

So, I have learned to stay quiet, to stay still, and not to chase the rabbit down the hole.

While you thought you saw a mother who didn’t give a crap about her child’s behavior, what you actually saw a mother who was doing what is best for her child.

And while you mouthed, “Thank God he isn’t ours.” You forgot something, he is mine.

He is mine with his big brown eyes, sandy brown hair, charming smile, and his invisible disability.

Mom and son with an invisible disability

So maybe you will read this, and I hope so. I hope that you get to see what you really saw that day… a seven-year-old with an invisible disability doing the best that he could, and his mother doing her best as well.


  1. Reading this made me cry because I remember telling my husband one day that it would be a whole lot easier if our child looked like he had a disability. I can’t believe I said it but I was at my lowest and being bombarded by judgemental looks and comments from people with no understanding of the situation. After many years I am no longer as impacted by other people’s opinion but still saddened that we don’t recognize there are many people with illnesses and disabilities that are not obvious to the world. I teach my children not to judge because we cannot know what goes on in other people’s lives and we don’t have the right to assume.

    • Thank you for your comment. I have felt the exact same way. I agree that over time as a special needs parent, you develop a thick skin and a compassion for others. Thanks for reading my piece.


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