By Mary Rosswurm
When my son, Brad, was in middle school I would ask him every day who he ate lunch with and every day, it was the same, he had eaten lunch alone. This just broke my heart!
In elementary school, he was unable to tolerate the loud noise and all the activity in the cafeteria, so he would eat in the classroom. The teachers made sure he had one or two typical peers eating with him. It was seen as a privilege to eat with Brad in the classroom. But middle school was different. I would often call the teacher or write her a note and ask if she could arrange for some kids to eat with him, to which she always agreed to try to put something together. While I know he had made progress being able to eat in the cafeteria, it made me so sad to think of him sitting alone each day eating his lunch.
One day, I asked Brad who he had eaten lunch with and, as usual, he said he ate alone. I asked him if it made him sad to eat alone, to which he replied, “No, I like eating alone.” I was shocked. Who likes to eat alone? I know people who would rather eat nothing than go to a restaurant or even a movie by themselves. I just didn’t understand how he could like to eat alone. So, I asked him why. Why did he like to eat alone? Brad simply said that he enjoyed watching the other kids but not having to think about talking while he was eating was better. He had to talk a lot during the day, but at lunch time, he could sit alone and not have to talk.
This was an “ah-ha” moment for me, like a big light bulb went off in my head. Eating with people and talking with others during lunch was MY social need, not his. I realized that while it would feel odd to me to sit alone and eat, it felt perfectly fine for him.
I began to become more aware of my needs and gauge of normalcy compared to his needs and his gauge of normalcy. I realized that eating alone was OK for him and that no matter how hard I tried he was never going to be the social butterfly that I was. And that’s OK. He’s OK.
Mary Rosswurm is the executive director of Little Star Center and serves on the Indiana Commission for Autism. Her son, Brad, has autism.