Home > In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – Can You Appreciate My Son’s Successes?

In Their Own Words – Can You Appreciate My Son’s Successes?

This “In Their Own Words,” post is by Shannon Des Roches Rosa.  A version of this essay originally appeared on Shannon’s personal site, www.squidalicious.com, and on www.blogher.com.

Last week, my son Leo and I had the loveliest day together. It was a pleasant day, full of the kind of errand-running and necessary outings that might cause a neurotypical kid to grumble. But Leo, who has intense autism, was a great sport and good company as we trotted all over town. Still, I suspect we may have looked odd to folks unaware of Leo’s challenges, to observers who couldn’t know that it has taken seven years of hard work by Leo, his family, and his team of dedicated professionals and educators to help our boy behave quirkily when he’s out in public — instead of totally out of control. Instead of not going out at all. So, theoretical observer, let me interpret for you, in case you are curious about kids like Leo when you see them out and about, and wonder what is going on with that funky kid and his or her parents. Let me explain to you just how successful our boy’s day was. We started our day accompanying Leo’s five-year-old sister to her soccer team’s picture day. I held his hand the entire time, which probably looked odd as he is obviously not a small child himself. Why do I hold his hand? Because he’s less likely to bolt. Because noisy, swarming little kids make him skittish, and holding my hand helps keep him calm. While we were waiting for his sister to stop making faces at the camera, I introduced Leo to several parents. After I told Leo each person’s name, he replied on his own, “Hi, ‘Name.'” It was great to see smiles from parents who knew of Leo but had never talked to him before, and didn’t realize what a friendly, polite kid he is. Successes:

  • Leo didn’t bolt.
  • Leo waited with me during a non-preferred activity for 30 minutes, without getting impatient.
  • Leo didn’t treat the small kids like the bowling pins to his bowling ball. No one was scared of him, much less hurt by him.
  • Leo spontaneously inserted correct names into a social greeting, with eye contact, and with an appropriate response to a social question.

After pictures, the three of us visited a local cafe for a snack for the kids and coffee for me. Leo spied bagels in the display case and asked for them, so I told him and his sister to sit down at a table and wait while I ordered their food. But the barrista mixed up our order, which caused confusion and delay. I started to panic — Leo kept asking, “Want a bagel, please?,” which might have seemed weird to the other patrons. But for Leo, re-asking is a form of self-soothing and processing — he really wasn’t going to get a bagel immediately, that sucked, and he needed to deal. And he did! Eventually our food appeared, I sat down, and we all enjoyed our treats. Successes:

  • Leo waited calmly for a highly-preferred food item, and did not tantrum.
  • Leo accepted that another highly-preferred food item would not be coming his way, even though he could see it right there in that display case.

Leo and I became a dynamic duo later that afternoon when the rest of our family scooted to a Daddy-Daughter hootenanny. I decided to treat him to his favorite Indian restaurant, where he did a giggly happy dance of anticipatory “naan bread” joy. (His audible glee lasted only a few seconds and wasn’t too loud; if he had been disruptive to other patrons, we would have left.) Leo stayed with me as I pillaged the buffet, asking me for naan every thirty seconds. I reassured him each time that he could have his naan — but not until we sat down. He remained calm. Once we sat down, I tore off pieces of the naan bread and handed them to him instead of letting him have his own plate. My behavior probably appeared odd and controlling — a helicopter mom hand-feeding her chubby son — yep, that family’s got some food issues. But there was actually a lot of work, progress, and practicing going on, for those who knew what to to look for. Because every time Leo ate a piece of naan bread, he saw me dip it in my saag (spiced spinach puree) first. Our boy, who usually eats only six foods, but has been working hard on tolerating other tastes and textures, watched me put a non-preferred food on his beloved naan. And he still ate every single piece. Happily!

He then asked for mango ice cream. Since dessert is included in the buffet, I got him a bowl of the orange stuff. He tidily ate the entire thing himself, with a spoon — a challenge for a boy with fine motor issues. Successes:

  • Leo did not try to snatch naan bread from the buffet.
  • Our dietarily self-limited boy is now eating a spicy Indian food.
  • Leo used a utensil to feed himself a whole food portion.

Next I took Leo to get his beautiful but too-shaggy moptop trimmed. He let the stylist cut his hair, without any significant behaviors. Initially, he squawked and fidgeted — which I’m sure drew quizzical glances from other patrons — but once I brought out his iPod touch and held it so he could watch a favorite video, he settled down. The stylist could then chop off his luxuriant glossy curls, and buzz a clean line around his ears and neck. Successes:

  • Leo did not scream and cry and try to escape from the stylist’s chair.
  • Leo did not need to sit on one of the playground-style kiddie chairs. He sat in a regular chair.
  • Leo did not require a lollipop or other food item to comply.
  • Leo did not jerk his head around so violently that his hairline looked badger-chewed.
  • Leo was able to focus on a video during the session, and sit extra-calmly.

Leo, with his family’s and his team’s support, is still working on a lot of challenges. But I hope my description of these four episodes’ successes helps people appreciate kids like Leo under similar circumstances. I hope that instead of thinking, “Why is that kid behaving so strangely,” people will start to ask themselves, “I wonder just how hard that kid is working?” Because I bet you anything, those quirky kids — they’ve worked their tails off, just to be able to leave the house and appear in public. In Leo’s case, the goal isn’t even to blend in, but rather to be able to grocery shop, eat in a restaurant, go to the park, or get a hair cut without disturbing anyone else, or causing a major incident. We got through our entire day without having to abort a single errand — quite an accomplishment for such an easily overwhelmed boy. I hope, after reading this, you’re as proud of Leo as I am.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. BusyChica
    October 8, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Congrats on a successful day! Your efforts, team included, are paying off. Wishing you and your son continued success as you venture into having more outings!

  2. Johanna
    October 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I can truly appreciate all of Leo’s successes as they apply to my two young boys ages 2 and 4 and both are autistic. Keep up the great work Leo! And mom, you are amazing too. ;-)

  3. Tonya Myers
    October 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I am very encouraged by your day out with Leo. Although my son USUALLY does ok shopping a hair cut is something that at this point is still out of the question. So congtats.for all of the hard work.

  4. Debbie Couillard
    October 8, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I am so proud of all of you!!you have no idea!I loved the remark,will they notice how hard that kid is working?My nephew has Autism.Hes made great accomplishments as well.being a part of this world weve come to think these children will be our hope of a greater future!where they dont know hate or crime,the evils that overtake “reg”kids.Continued blessings to your family!!

  5. Tonya
    October 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Wow! That sounds like a great day! Congratulations on all of Leo and everyone’s accomplishments!! I teared up a little, as some of those situations were so familiar. You should definitely be proud:)

  6. Deana
    October 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    I read this and I feel like I wrote it.
    Thanks for sharing ;)

  7. Tawila Jo
    October 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Congrats for such a wonderfully successful day! I am proud of Leo, you, the rest of the family and team. There is a ton of hard work that goes into having such a great outing!!

  8. Beverly Toscano
    October 8, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    my grandson is just like your Leo and it is not easy living in their world they do not want to be different and if people would be kinder to them instead of shutting them out this world would be a better place. I cry every time i see my Nathaniel making even a little bit of progress because i know he gets a sense of being more accepted every step he makes in a prositive direction.

  9. October 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Thank’s for sharing Leo’s success. His success and your great day together made me smile. Your take on how others should look at outburst or quirks from other children as a child that is working hard! Love it!


  10. Tony Treadway
    October 8, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. I have a wonderful friend who is a single mother of 2 children 4 and 6. Her 6 year old is autistic and she deals with these issues each day. Autism Speaks and their postings are a wonder insight for me and help me understand my friends situation in daily life. It also gives me insight and methods to help her and her son. Thank you!

  11. Julie
    October 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Wow! As the mom of a little girl with autism, I can totally appreciate how great this day was! So many successes in one day, congrats! I am always so appreciative of an outing with incident!

  12. October 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I just wrote in my blog today, “Is it a sad day or a happy day” and it is truly about perspective and the slant we choose to look at it with. Your article is beautiful, and highlights this so well. You choose to see all the good, all the progress. We can understand that there can/may be even more progress, but to be able to stop and look and feel great about how far we’ve come, where we are each day.. that is joy. That is how we continue with joy. How we get up and go through the challenges each day. Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts.

  13. October 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm


  14. Nancy
    October 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Congratulations to Leo for having such a wonderful day!
    My 7 yr old has high-functioning autism, recently diagnosed and I never really thought of re-asking as a soothing mechanism, but it makes sense!

  15. Rock
    October 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Congrats! Sounds like Leo had an amazing day!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Connie
    October 8, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Wow! What an incredible day. I feel you beaming with pride through your post and you should! Congratulations to you and Leo. Wishing you more days like this one.

  17. Mary Pat
    October 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Oh my sweet boy, how far you have come. And thank you God for giving him to this family.

  18. Michele
    October 8, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Congrats on such a great day! What an accomplishment!

  19. Kerri
    October 8, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Thank-you for sharing your story. I am looking forward to the days when we can have a similar day. You must be so proud of your son for doing such an awesome job.

  20. October 8, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks, Shannon, for telling us this amazing story of your day. Congratulations to you and Leo for his many successes! I hope you don’t mind if I share this.

  21. Simonne Hummel
    October 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    What an accomplishment! I recently had a great day with my son. We went shopping for shoes. This is usually incredibly stressful but my son picked out shoes, let them measure his feet, and was calm and patient (relatively). Success!! It’s the small successes that help every day!!!!

  22. Lindsey
    October 8, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I feel like I am reading my own life. Although, I may not personally know him, I am so proud of him. You just gave me and my 6 year old son hope! Thank you for sharing this!

  23. Joy
    October 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Shannon, you and your family have done an amazing job.
    Leo, we are all so proud of you.

  24. Yvonne Whitehouse
    October 8, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Thanks Shannon for sharing these incredible accomplishments for Leo. You are both to be congratulated for all your patience and hard work. I was elated to hear how well Leo doing. God bless you.

  25. Frankie Dosen
    October 8, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    I know how hard you and Craig have worked as well as your support workers. I have been amazed the last few times I have seen Leo at his amazing progress. This latest is sure proof that all the stategies you use are making Leo’s life easier for him and your family. Bravo Leo and Kudos to you both and your support team.

  26. October 8, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I am so proud of Leo! I am happy that you had a such a great day, and am glad to hear of the triumphs of success. It is refreshing to hear a positive outlook on autism. It makes me look at my own son’s behavior in a different way. Focus on the positives, and work on the negatives daily. All, I hear is negatives on my son’s behaviors from others. I feel like a failure as a parent, but there are many things that he has many progress in. We have worked hard for the progress.I should be proud of his acheivements.

  27. Dawn
    October 8, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Congratulations on your amazing day!!! Thank you for sharing Leo’s – and your – successes!

    October 8, 2010 at 11:08 pm


  29. Joy
    October 8, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Shannon, you and your family are doing an amazing job.
    Leo, we are all very proud of you.

  30. October 9, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Thank you all, so much — you understand how much cheerleading kids like ours both need and deserve, especially when their hard work isn’t always obvious.

    Here’s to kids like Leo and their small but monumental daily victories.

  31. Janet
    October 9, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Great job, Leo, on all your hard work. Sounds like you had a busy, busy day, and a bunch of fun times, too! I love Naan bread, too!! Isn’t it great to have such a wonderful family?

  32. October 9, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Way to go Leo and Mom what a great day! I so many times think that if they only knew how my little girl was a year ago they would be amazed how she is now, and how far she has come!

  33. October 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I love how you are able to view his successes so clearly. I have learned to do that with my son, who is now an adult, and it has given me a greater appreciation for him, as well as a more peaceful heart.

  34. Laura Taylor
    October 9, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Hi! my name is Laura Taylor I have a son with autism and I believe no matter what they accomplish it is great. My son is 16 yrs old and has come along way, he is also in High school special sh classes and has done great and I have watched him from the early days of disagonises and I believe that kids with autism or any type need to know how well they do because they have a huge hurdle to overcome and I think your son is a wonderful looking boy. I thinnk it is great he did so well with getting his shoes, for my son it is going to the doctors and allowing them to give him his flu shots or taking his blood because in yrs past he would completely have a melt down, and now he puts his arm out and lets them do it.

  35. Joan
    October 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I have a beautiful six-year-old grandson who has autism. Just now reading your story inspires me. We are having to learn so much but we know that there is hope for change and quality of life for all involved. Our grandson started school this year and has an aid with him at all times. Steven is also very very smart and has taught himself to read and probably has been reading since he was four. Our greatest concern is that he will remain challenged in school so that he does not become bored.

  36. October 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I LOVE days like this, with so much success! It makes all your hard work feel validated doesn’t it? =) Even if more times than not the struggles overcome the “good days” progress is progress, and that is a blessing, to see the growth! Congrats to you and your family, and I wish you all the more happy days!

  37. October 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Yay for you and your son! I loved the picture of him sitting there with his spoon and dessert looking like such a big boy and, yes, like any other kid. I’ve had some lovely days with my son too – always happily surprised when he just says “hi” to someone he meets, waits patiently or helps me with the shopping. Little steps today, but miles from where we started. The best part is LOVING to be with your son. Congratulations on the Great day!

  38. Pat
    October 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Sounds like a perfect day….good for you and your son!

  39. Marjory Erdman
    October 10, 2010 at 7:37 am

    It sounds like Leo is making huge connections in his world, due to the dilligance of his parents, and teachers around him. Not only can I appreciate the success of this young man, I can also imagine that it took him a great deal of reserve and increase of his emotional intelligence to get to this good day.! Way to go Leo’s Family too.What a inspirational story !

  40. Lynda
    October 11, 2010 at 2:55 am

    Well done, Leo! You have earned the right to wear that t-shirt :o)

  41. October 11, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Shannon, I related to this on SO many levels. Nobody ever gets it with Max, either; they think he is just…different. They have no idea how much of a coup it is to get him to, say, eat a meal in a restaurant. Well, actually, they might have some inkling because of his new screeching habit.

    Your writing is powerful, beautiful, and so relatable, all at once. Not to mention, perception-altering. This is something any parent of a kid with special powers can relate to. Thank you for this. Off to show it to my husband.

  42. October 12, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Shannon and Leo,
    You are a fabulous duo! I bet the two of you were exhausted (but content) after such a busy day :) I am a reader of your Squidalicious blog, and love it :) Thanks for sharing, and inspiring!

    Here’s to more GOOD days:)

  43. Arbayana
    October 15, 2010 at 3:57 am

    That were a very big success for Leo… I hope my son can achieve the same success as Leo did

  44. Linda
    October 15, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Terrific! This is exactly what I do with my son.

    It’s true, does anyone really appreciate how very hard our boys(andgirls) work when we are out in “typical land”?

  45. Linda
    October 15, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Oh, and Shannon, you are amazing too!

  46. Jackie
    October 15, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    What a great day. I have a 15 year old son with autism. Those small successes turn into bigger one as they get older. It’s a long hard journey but worth all the effort. Thank you for sharing. I think a lot of people do not realize how hard these kids work. Best wishes for Leo.

  47. Tamara
    October 15, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. Every outing with our son used to involve major meltdowns, and now, at 7 yrs. old, he can run errands with us all day without any issues at all. Parents, keep taking your kids out- go on trips, go to restaurants, it does get better with practice.

  48. October 15, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    It is always so inspiring and rewarding to share stories about our families! Our son is 13 and when I look back on all the years we have worked to get to where we are today, it is quite a journey! Somehow I think those of us that have been chosen to have a family member that has a ‘different ability’, sees the world differently through their eyes and those triumphs and accomplishments they achieve are so much more sweeter! I can remember haircut time was excruciatingly difficult. God bless the special person who never grew impatient with him! She really had the calmness and gift to get through all those haircuts. When I realized, from reading others that have autism, describe how painful getting their hair cut was, it really made me think. I remember YEARS ago reading an article in the Readers Digest (I think!) about how a person is unable to tickle themselves. I thought if that was the case, perhaps it would work for my son to hold the shaver as she cut his hair. This really did make a HUGE difference as I think it helped ‘ground’ the sensory experience! Today, he LOVES going for his haircut! When I tell him that he looks “handsome”, he smiles and says, But Mom, I want to look SHARP!!” Kuddos to all of us families climbing the mountain! Remember not to only look at reaching the top, but to really take the time to enjoy all these beautiful views we get on the way!

  49. Leslie
    October 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    What a great day you had!!! As the mother of four boys, one is autistic, I can relate to all of Leo’s success. The haircut reminded me of when my son was two. Our barber had to chase him around the shop with scissors – every mother’s nightmare! Kaiden can now, at age eight, tolerate haircuts. Finally. Thankfully. It is amazing what each little victory means to a family living with autism. Thanks for sharing your victories with the rest of us.

  50. Donna
    October 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Shannon, Thank you. I am as proud of your Leo as I am of my Christopher when he achieves similar successes everyday!

  51. pat
    October 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    thank you for this it is truly inspiring as I have an autistic grandson. I share your pride and know what these moments and days mean

  52. stacywhipp
    October 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I do not think that we stop often enough to celebrate our sucesses. Someone looking in from the outside can not tell how much work and energy it takes to make each small step. But with the continued support of family, friends and teachers each small steps can take us on a long journey. Thank you again for your inspiriing story.

  53. Hollie
    December 19, 2010 at 8:22 am

    This made me cry. A lot. Okay, maybe a little more than a lot.. My son is 4 and a half now, and he’s autistic. He’s worked SO hard this last 7 months to be a “REAL BOY”. He started talking (lots of swearing in the beginning, and that’s probably my fault) this last April. Now he actually talks back.. and people look at us like aliens when I giggle to this:
    Shane: Just ONE car.” holding up one finger
    Me: “The answer is NO”
    Shane: “I think the answer is YES!”
    He can recite colors now.. “Red Car” “Green Trash Truck”
    He can tell me he’s hungry “Are you hungry?” this is adorable because he repeats what I say to him when he screeches. The screeching has stopped.
    Shane: Are you hungry?
    Me: No, are you?
    Shane: SAY, what do you want?
    Me: What do you want?
    Shane: Do you waaaant waffles?
    Me: Do you want waffles?
    Shane: Yes, please!!

    Yeah, he’s a brat. But at least he can tell me what he wants (and how many). And I swear when he calls me mommy a hundred times a day it’s bliss. Nobody gets it, because their kids are NT, and I guess my son should have been doing this years ago.. But how many of their kids could walk and run and get out of the house at 7 months?

  54. January 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Hi , nice website you have here!

  1. November 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm

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