My Child Is Not an Animal; He Has Autism
Yes, We See You
When I woke up this morning, I didn't expect to be standing inside of a Walmart with my son screaming at the top of his lungs because a stranger brushed up against him—but there I was. I kept trying my best to divert his attention from the ongoing meltdown. I employed my powers of diversion by trying to catch his attention with several different items, and I tried calming him with our always-handy sensory brush. I even tried offering him a snack after attempting to use my stern voice. Nothing worked.
And all this time, you just stood there staring. Every now and then you would whisper to your friend or roll your eyes in disagreement with all the attempts I was making to calm my child. I get it, he is twelve years old and he shouldn't act like that out in public. Obviously I am a horrible mother for not teaching my child basic discipline. I mean, obviously that kid is just spoiled so badly that even having something as little as someone brushing up against him sends him into a tantrum. What is wrong with him? What is wrong with me? Some people just shouldn't be parents, right?
Wrong. You are so unbelievably wrong. And you will never understand just how wrong you are. My child is not a spoiled brat, he is not an animal, and I am not just a horrible parent that refuses to teach my child discipline and accountability. My child has autism.
A new government survey shows that 1 in 45 children have been diagnosed with autism. How is it that autism can be this common—and yet there is still so much complete and utter ignorance out there?
Although I am always aware that this is a possibility at any time, I try my hardest to schedule around the meltdowns and never set any plans in concrete because I have no clue if it will be a good or a bad day for my boy. But sometimes things are out of my control. Sometimes a random stranger will accidentally brush his arm up against my child in a grocery store and he will go into meltdown mode. It is a sensory processing thing, not a spoiled child thing.
Do you really think that standing there whispering and staring is the best use of your time? Or is my child's autism meltdown just so amazing that you must waste your time by standing there and actively showing me your disapproval?
Yes, I see you. Yes, I hear you. No, it is not going to make it any better. All you are doing is raising my stress level, and possibly my son's as well. Are you proud of that?
I Am Exhausted
I am a mother that has spent the last 12 years in an exhausted state. I have no clue when the last time I wore make-up was. I do not recall the last time I went out to dinner and a movie with my friends or even my own husband. Unlike you, I do not have time to hang out in Walmart and judge other mothers and their children. And if I did I would probably be intelligent enough to recognize a child with disabilities.
There is a line between a problem child and a child with neurological issues. Your first hint could have been when he started chewing on his own hand or hitting his own face. Another hint may have been his inability to form a sentence in his altered state. And if I was so ignorant that I could not, I would want to educate myself on every possible issue before I stood there looking like an intolerable fool.
For the last 12 years I have spent day in and day out dealing with meltdowns, therapy and doctors appointments, medication checks and psychological evaluations. We have been through behavior, sensory and food therapies. We have been through so many different behavior plans and tried just about anything you could possibly think of and more. Trust me, I have been trying, I am still trying, and will always be trying to find things that work for him and everyone in his life.
Children Are Children
Even if he was just being a problem child and not wanting to listen to his mother, what right would you have to stand there and roll your eyes at him? What right do you have to make little snickers and comments about a child in a public place obviously in the attempt to shame him and I? He is a child and I am a mother. Just two human beings that deserve the same common decency as any other.
You have no right to try to publicly shame a child. Even if my child had actually been coherent enough to notice your disapproval I would have instructed him to ignore you. Any person that is willing to make a spectacle of a child, with or without impairment, does not deserve to be acknowledged. And if you can somehow justify it than you need more help than anyone would ever be able to offer you.
My child has been through so much at 12 years old already. He has acknowledged that he may never have many friends, he has sat waiting on his birthday in hopes that even just one of the 20 children from his class will show up. He has been hospitalized for months at a time trying out multiple different medications that will work best for his multiple diagnoses: autism, S.P.D., O.D.D., severe anxiety, and A.D.H.D. He has had to deal with headaches and body pains after coming out of a meltdown that he caused with self-injurious behaviors that he sometimes cannot control. And he has gone through anger and sadness while realizing that he will never be like the other children he sees playing outside. The very same ones that do not want to play with him because he is a 12-year-old with a 6-year-old mentality. My son has enough to deal with, without the judgement of ignorant adults.
When you see a child having a tantrum or a meltdown in a store and the parent is obviously doing everything in their power to calm them, just keep walking. Regardless of reason or impairment, it is not your damn business. The parent is doing everything that they can to stop the situation and your publicly display of disapproval does nothing to help the situation.
If you have a hard time walking away and feel the need to insert yourself into a situation that you have no cause to be involved in, be supportive. Instead of giving the look of death to the mother, give her an encouraging smile or nod. Walk over to her and tell her she is doing a good job. Tell her that she is strong and she can get through this. Don't just assume that your crooked little looks are going to somehow stop her child from being autistic and that they will just stand up, act right, and go on their merry way. It doesn't work that way.
I am not going to turn this letter of disapproval into a complete and thorough explanation of autism. I am not going to go into the history of autism, what works or doesn't work for children with autism or why it is parents of children with autism do what they do. If you can't seem to understand what I am saying in this letter or you feel that you actually have a right to judge other people that are just trying to make it through the day, you need help. You definitely need to educate yourself.
Autism is not something that just goes away. It cannot be cured, and even if we find something that works for our child today, that does not mean it is going to work tomorrow. Parents of children with autism have had to learn hard and fast what autism is and how to navigate life with and for the child. We do not expect you to know everything that we must know, we know that you won't ever truly understand without having raised a child with autism yourself.
Everyone should show a little basic human decency to others. Don't judge others about things that you clearly do not understand. Just take the time to accept that other people might have to face challenges that you do not know about. If you do not understand or fully grasp the concept of autism, read about it. And maybe next time you see a child having a meltdown in the store, you could just keep walking instead of making it worse.