On August 24, Cara Thulin wrote an open letter to the students and teachers at her son Zeke's new high school explaining that he might seem as if he's not paying attention to them or maybe even being rude, but that's because Zeke has autism — and what he really needs is for them to be kind and patient.
"This boy is in your ranks now. And I need you all to help me," she wrote. As she explains, Zeke's "brain grew up differently" and that means he didn't learn a lot of the social cues that many of us pick up from paying attention to other people as we play and grow.
"[His brain] grew up focusing on protecting Zeke from being overwhelmed by sounds, and light, textures, and smells," she wrote. "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 the sun hit his mom's earrings, or how loud the dog was."
Thulin tells Refinery29 that she wrote the letter because she can't put a sign around Zeke's neck that says "I'm autistic," or follow him around to explain why he might not respond to someone when they talk to him. She wanted at least a few of the students at his new school to know why her son acts in a way that might seem strange to them and how to interact with him, because he needs the interaction, too.
"If you see this kid, say 'Hi Zeke!' and don't get offended if he doesn't respond," she wrote. "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 t-shirts. 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."
Writing the letter, for Thulin, was also a way to be proactive about the experience Zeke would have at school, and she encourages other parents to talk to the school and to the students about how to best interact with and teach their children.
"We need to stop expecting them to work around us," she says. "They should be given every opportunity in the world, they're brilliant, fresh minds with incredible ideas we haven't ever thought of. If you were completely unaffected by the people around you, imagine what you could think of and achieve? That's the mind Zeke has been given. It is really, very cool."
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