I remember the first time I “came out” to a stranger. I was at Target (as usual), and a woman said “hello” to Will and waited for him to respond. I said “hello” back for him, smiling and telling her, “Will isn’t being rude to you, ma’am. He has autism, so he doesn’t speak.” That night, I told my husband Marty about the exchange. I was incredibly proud of having publicly stated, to someone who didn’t need to know, that Will had autism. Doing so was a big step for me.
See, the thing about autism is that Will looks like everyone else (although, and I could be a teensy bit biased here, I do think he’s maybe a little cuter than the average kid). He “passes” for “normal” the way some of my gay friends used to “pass” for straight before coming out. People cannot look at Will and tell that he’s any different. And so I think it comes as even more of a surprise to people when I tell them he has autism.
At first, I didn’t want to tell people Will had autism because it was too painful. I would cry just thinking about autism, so I tried not to talk about it in front of Will. And I knew I didn’t have to tell people, given how Will blended in. So, in those first few months A.D. (that’s “After Diagnosis” in our house), I stuck to telling family and close friends. I even asked them to keep the news to themselves, not out of shame, but out of fear. I was petrified that a girlfriend would mention Will’s autism to another mom, and that I’d then run into that mom, say, at the park. I knew if I had a random acquaintance come up and give me her condolences (because that’s how it felt in the beginning; no one knew what to say except how sorry they were), I would completely break down on the spot.