They say that the eyes are windows to the soul and I do believe that your eyes never lie. No matter what emotion we are trying to hide, to fight, to keep in check, the eyes are the big giveaway. I am not talking about the obvious eyes raised heavenwards or goggle-eyed staring, I mean those micro expressions that really give away your inner thoughts.

I recently bumped into someone I worked with about 10 years ago. I have always liked her and the confidence she seemed to always exude so it was really nice to happen upon her. We asked all the usual catch-up questions about life, family etc. and of course came the question about my daughter ‘How is E doing?’. Instead of the ‘fine’ ‘she’s great’ ‘growing up fast’, I thought I would be completely honest. I said that she was well but we have had our problems and she was recently diagnosed as ASD & ADHD. I don’t quite know where I got that inner strength from (any other parent who has an ASD child and meets someone they haven’t seen for a while will identify I hope) but I mainly thought I had nothing to lose, there was no reason not to be honest,  just exchanging pleasantries felt hollow and untrue and wrong.

I didn’t know how she would react but I was surprised.

She didn’t turn away, she didn’t put on the head-to-one-side ‘oh dear’ face, she didn’t make the the I’m-smiling-a-forced-smile-because-I-really-don’t-know-what-else-to-do face nor did the Oh-my-that-must-be-awful crumpled face make an appearance. Instead, those lovely dark eyes never deviated from looking at me and I could see a very subtle welling up of tears. Nothing over the top, nothing brash or bold, just a genuine empathetic response. I could almost hear what she was thinking – ‘that must be really tough for you, I’ll try and imagine how I would feel’. It made me relieved, warm towards her and really proud of myself for having the guts to share something so shrouded in mystery, lack of understanding and misconceptions.

She may never know how her genuine, caring reaction helped me when I most needed it.  When I saw her the following day (our daughters are at the same holiday club) I thought there would be the awkwardness, I suspected she may pretend not to have seen me on that occasion, that she would give a distant wave and scurry off but no, I was wrong. She came back up to me, said ‘Hi’, started chatting about how her day had been, other old colleagues she knows. She made life normal again, she made me feel a little like my old self, she made me feel I could do this. I have tears in my eyes typing this (not for the first time) because I hadn’t realised how nervous I was about telling friends and family about our lovely girl; how I have perhaps been isolating myself expecting the reaction to be negative. I’m going to write that planned email to our friends and family now and I hope their response is as warm as this old friend’s was.

Even if I don’t see her for another 10 years, she has made a true, deep impact – thank you for making ‘the look’ you gave me when I spoke about my daughter’s ASD so different from what I expected.

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