I was inspired to write this after reading about the mom who literally cried when her autistic teen was rejected by a girl he asked to be his valentine.
The story of Roman, 14, who asked in front of a bunch of classmates if another student could be his valentine, made quite the rounds on the Internet – being picked up by hoards of outlets.
Mom posted his “sad” experience on social media and it blew up. The result was many female classmates accepting his invitation.
On one hand, this story seems very heartwarming and wonderful, showing that there actually exists kindhearted teenagers!
However, I was fuming because there was something else going on here as well: Mom was unknowingly setting her son up for being treated as “less than,” because she herself was treating him as “less than” – because of his autism!
A 14-Year-Old Baby
Many moms refer to their children as babies when they’re well-past two years of age.
They’ve been known to say “my baby” or “my babies” when referring to kids as old as five or seven, even nine or 10, when the child becomes very sick or seriously injured.
But Heather Starr referred to her teen son as “my oldest baby” in a Facebook post.
This doesn’t sound like a good idea. While all loving mothers may always think of their kids – even as adults – as their babies, we can certainly imagine that Heather may be infantilizing Roman in her daily interactions with him, being that she thought nothing of posting “my oldest baby” on a public platform!
But referring to her autistic teen as a baby may be the least of the problems here.
Why did she post?
If the boy were neurotypical (NT), would Heather have posted the situation?
The situation is that the teen was “sad,” but didn’t make a big deal about it. According to the story, his feeling of dejection was no more or no less than what an NT teen would feel.
What teen boy WOULDN’T FEEL SAD if a girl rejected his valentine invitation?
This has been happening to millions of teen boys since Valentine’s Day became a thing.
By making the post, Heather is sending a message that everyone must like her son, that nobody should ever say “no” to him, that everything should go his way — always.
At the same time, she’s teaching him (without realizing it) that autism automatically nets being regarded as less than.
The result of her post is that a bunch of classmates gave Roman pity acceptances to his invitation to that girl, who, by the way – according to the story – did NOT behave meanly or rudely in any way when she simply turned him down.
Women are encouraged to speak up, be honest and straightforward and not give in to a man’s insistence if she doesn’t feel comfortable with it.
That’s what this teen girl did, yet she was made out to be a villain because Heather couldn’t accept the idea that not every girl is going to feel a connection with her son!
It’s highly possible the girl turned down previous Valentine invitations from NTs, and she’ll certainly be turning down guys when she gets older – as I’m sure Heather has also done when being asked out!
Dayum, that autistic teen boy got all those pity acceptances – because kids have learned that autistic people are less than and thus, deserve extra coddling.
What’s disturbing is that Heather admits that she “burst into tears” after Roman revealed the rejection, albeit she did it when he left the room.
But even though she concealed her tears from him, that’s beside the point.
If Heather felt distraught enough to cry over a Valentine rejection for her teen son, it’s logical to assume that she routinely over-coddles the boy and SEES HIM AS LESS THAN BECAUSE OF HIS AUTISM.
I’m autistic – clinically diagnosed in March 2022 – and I’d sure hate if anyone gave me any pity because of it.
If I disclose my autism diagnosis to someone, they’d better not start talking down to me.
If Heather wants something to really cry about, she should take a walk through a pediatric oncology unit at the local hospital.
That’ll surely shake her up and give her a whole new perspective.
I wonder how many women, who read of Roman’s plight and Heather’s response, were recently told their teen had cancer.
Rejection Is a Part of Life
Roman will get rejected for jobs. How do I know this? Because EVERYONE gets rejected when applying for jobs.
Many won’t even be called in for the interview.
How is Roman going to handle a job rejection? How is he going to handle the next time a girl says “no”?
The answer lies in how much his mother will continue to treat him as less than due to his autism.
Now, I’m not saying she should’ve berated him for making his invitation with a big sign in front of a bunch of classmates which put the girl in a very awkward situation.
But perhaps she should’ve just kept her internal feelings from imploding and instead, realized that this could be a life lesson instead of throwing a pity party for him.
She should not have overreacted.
Should she have told Roman the cliché of “Rejection is part of life; there’s plenty of fish in the sea”?
Perhaps not, but that cliché response surely would’ve beaten what she actually had done: making his situation public to the world!
- This doesn’t help the autistic community.
- It makes us come across as needing coddling.
Mom should’ve kept her cool and had a casual, sensible, non-dramatic approach. And kept it private.
Accommodations vs. Coddling
Many autistic people need the so-called accommodations in school as well as the workplace.
But dang it, there’s a huge difference between requiring solitary study in a quiet area and having a bunch of pity acceptances thrown at you because Mom posted on social media that a girl said no.
Having the lights dimmed near your workstation on the job, due to a lighting sensitivity, is not coddling. It’s an accommodation.
Not being nagged to join in on a coworker’s retirement party is not coddling. It’s an accommodation.
For what it’s worth, I looked forward to retirement parties for hedonistic reasons: It was an excuse not to work for 30 minutes and to enjoy some free cake!
At one particular job I accommodated myself by wearing noise cancelling headphones because I couldn’t stand the constant hissing from a nearby computer room. Nobody else minded the noise.
While nobody harassed me for wearing the earphones, I’m sure that even these days, there are autistic people who get hassled for something like this.
There are also many other ways to accommodate autistic people in the school environment and workplace – but this does not mean the same thing as coddling by a parent – a coddling that’s driven by the parent perceiving her autistic child as less than!
I’ve gotten TONS of rejections from men whom I was interested in. Yes, it upset me.
Yes, it steamed me. But did I expect pity parties? NO. Did I move on like a mature adult? YES.
I’ve gotten many job rejections. Did I fall apart? NO.
Did I have the mindset of “So much for that; let’s nail the next job interview”? YES.
Though I’d be lying if I said I never once considered the possibility that the interviewer saw me as kind of odd, I never, never, ever responded to a rejection with sadness, distress or a blow to my self-confidence. Never.
To me, job interviews were a technicality, a formality, a numbers game.
Maybe this approach was driven, in part, by my autism. However, I was never coddled growing up, and this I’m sure has helped mold me into a “steely Autistic.”
It seems that the people most likely to view Autistics as less than are their own parents!
And when they do this, the kid’s classmates follow suit. It needs to stop. It’s hindering autism acceptance!
Autistic kids should be empowered and accepted, not enabled or pitied.