IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What if we stopped talking about autism?

In this personal essay, a mom reflects on her life as an advocate for her son.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

What if we stopped talking about autism?

I think about that sometimes.

There will be times, like last night, where I will feel like it’s just too complicated.

Maybe, it would be easier to not share. To not advocate.

To hide, even.


Kate Swenson's oldest child Cooper has autism. He loves to have fun in his own ways.
Kate Swenson's oldest child Cooper has autism. He loves to have fun in his own ways. Courtesy Kate Swenson

"There was none of this autism stuff when I was younger!"

That’s a sentence I’ve heard more times than I can count from people. Some well-meaning and genuinely curious about it. And some, well, who think it’s a discipline issue. A bad child. A lazy parent.

There was none of this autism stuff when I was younger!"

The thing is ... there were disabilities way back when. They were just hidden. Little faces were locked away in institutions. And if you want to argue about that, please, first, take a second and Google the "history of disabilities."

Your skin will crawl. You will have to stop reading. Because it’s too awful. You will see the face of your own child. Naked. Medicated. Restrained.

I see my Cooper. And how he needs five warm fuzzy blankets to sleep at night. And loves barbecue chips and going to school. And I think ... thank God he is mine.

Related essay: ‘My son makes fun of the autistic kid in class’


Kate Swenson's son Cooper has autism. He's pictured here surrounded by many of his favorite items.
Kate Swenson's son Cooper has autism. He's pictured here surrounded by many of his favorite items.Courtesy Kate Swenson

This morning I looked at my son dancing in his seat, so excited to go to school. Pure joy. His innocence. His vulnerability.

And I saw a kid with a full, meaningful life in front of him.

But also an uphill climb. One with sharing, advocating and educating. One where I need to be brave and fearless.

(My son) is not a sad story."

One where he teaches us.

One where we show his gifts and his value in this world.

And his challenges too. Because once the world knows, and understands, and stops fearing, we can make tweaks and modifications to help kids like him.

Related story: 21 things I wish I’d known about having a child with autism


Mom Kate Swenson enjoys an outing with all four of her kids. Her oldest son, Cooper (far right), has autism.
Mom Kate Swenson enjoys an outing with all four of her kids. Her oldest son, Cooper (far right), has autism.Courtesy Kate Swenson

We can’t stop talking about autism. We can’t.

He is not a sad story.

Longtime TODAY Parenting Team contributor Kate Swenson has written a new memoir called "Forever Boy."
Longtime TODAY Parenting Team contributor Kate Swenson has written a new memoir called "Forever Boy."Park Row Publishing

He is not a person to put somewhere. Or deal with.

His needs do not end at 18.

He needs to be in this world.

Start a conversation with your neighbor, a friend, a relative, the cashier at Target.

Because by sharing, you are helping a fellow family.

I know you are a beat down mom and dad, teacher and self-advocate. I feel it too.

But we can’t give up. We have to change the world for these kids.

And we can. And we will.

Related video: