We get asked a lot of questions. I get that—people are curious. We stand out because we’re clearly different from a typical family.
And, as Amy Roloff (the mom from Little People, Big World) once said, that can make us a little bit like celebrities—people tend to remember us and feel familiar with us because of that. But that doesn’t always go both ways. You may know us, but that doesn’t mean we know you.
In general, though, I try to answer the questions we get as openly and honestly as possible. As I’ve said many times (whether it be to groups of college students we’ve spoken to or medical professionals who have asked if students can observe appointments), I’m happy to help anyone better understand Nolan and other kids with similar diagnoses if it means they’ll be able to help more people as a result.
Usually the questions are pretty harmless. And while I always appreciate it when people direct their questions to Nolan instead of Kirk or me, I’ll do my best to answer no matter which of us they ask.
“How old is he?” Fifteen.
"Where does he get that curly hair from?" Kirk apparently.
“How does he let you know when he needs something?” Well, that’s a little more complicated, but usually he’ll either give us some sort of physical prompt (like the mornings when he wakes me up by handing me a can of soup or pack of lunch meat) or use Proloquo2Go on his iPad. Or sometimes he’ll whine or yell (he is a teenager after all) and we have to remind him that we can’t understand if he doesn’t use his iPad…
“Does he go to school?” Yes—he’s at the local public high school where he gets extra support through their special education program, and he plays soccer and baseball in their Adaptive Sports League.
You get the picture.
But sometimes the questions are less… polite (let’s use that word—it makes me feel like less of an asshole).
For example, there was the time in a small-town gas station when a crotchety employee (I assumed she may have been a manager) appeared out of an office that I hadn’t even realized was there to yell, “WHAT IS GOING ON OUT HERE?” Approximately 30 seconds after this, a police officer came in to talk to the employee at the counter, and I will never be convinced that this timing was a coincidence. Of course, I was already explaining to Manager Crankypants that Nolan has autism and public restrooms could be scary and stressful and that’s why he was making so much noise. Thankfully the officer only spoke quietly to the other employee and (probably) listened in as I continued to justify our presence in the gas station (which sits approximately 75 feet from an Interstate highway). He left shortly after Ms. Crankypants harrumphed her way back into her cave—I mean office. While I understand that there are circumstances where police should be called when a child is in distress, it frustrated me that she didn’t even bother to assess the situation first.
Another example would be the time that a complete stranger in a waiting room asked me if I was planning to have any more children. This one still bothers me almost a decade later, though I can't quite pinpoint why. It was a tougher question to answer, and I felt like I was being set up to fail no matter how I answered. Fortunately, my WTF face didn’t show for long, and I was able to give a nice fake smile along with a generic answer. “Oh, I’m already in my mid-thirties, and I doubt I have the energy to keep up with another… Between this guy and my husband, my hands are pretty full!” I tend to use humor both as a coping mechanism and to deflect, but if the stranger who asked had looked closely enough, I’m sure she would’ve seen my eye twitch. Also: I’m going to take a moment right now to apologize to Kirk for throwing him under that bus and thank him for giving me what felt like a safe way out of that one.
But one thing I would really like to be able to do more of in this space is answer questions. I know we tend to assume our readers understand certain things in the way we do (it’s every day to us), but obviously that’s not always true. It’s easy for us to forget that our perceptive is skewed.
So in an effort to make the world a better place for Nolan and other folks with autism who face similar challenges, please ask us questions. Use the Contact Us link or the “Let’s Chat!” box on the website, or send us a private message through Facebook, Instagram or the social media platform of your choice (heck, we’re even on the TikTok in a teeny tiny way these days or you can stalk me on LinkedIn). Or if you don’t care about anonymity, comment on this post. We’d love to hear from you, and we’d love even more if we can answer questions on a regular basis!