Friday, July 27, 2012

Things Have Changed

I read a lot of autism parent blogs. I shared a link to one I read recently on the Autism Sucks Facebook page. Nicely written by a mother about, admittedly simplifying, the kindness of strangers during a meltdown.

I think we as autism parents worry too much about what other people think when we're out in the community. I know I do. I wish I was at a point in my human/parenting development that I could truly say "I don't give a shit what other people think", but I am not. Meltdowns embarrass me. They embarrass my son. You think I enjoy all the stares and whispers in the grocery store because Vons decided to put their apples on display instead of the bananas they had last week?

I wish that sometimes I could step away from all of this and be in the shoes of the NT parents watching me. Watching my repetitive ABA techniques, setting schedules, telling a "social story", establishing choices, and, most importantly, following through with consequences. I know how I look. I get it. I look like a tool.

Or do I...

Earlier this summer I took the kids to Pismo Beach for a weekend with their grandma and grandpa. The wife was in trial and needed to work all weekend so we decided to get out of her hair. We'd been there before. A quaint beach town on the Central California coast. It was familiar to all of us.

This weekend, however, there was a classic car show in town. It was crowded. The pier/downtown area had been sealed off to display cars and carnival type booths (clothing/concessions/auto services). Friday and Saturday were great. We went to the beach for hours. Hung out in the carnival. We even looked at some of the cars.

Sunday came and Grandma, myself, the boy, and the baby girl took our daily beach trip. We made our way to the pier and readied ourselves for the 4 or 5 block walk back to the house. Then it started. For some reason, we weren't supposed to walk home the same way we had the three previous days. I gave the choice to walk home my way, or a different way. It was ignored, so I made the choice for him. The meltdown (screaming/yelling/pulling/crying/snot-flying protest) ensued. Right in the middle of the crowded carnival. Then something amazing happened... Grandma (my mother) said "I got this".

So Grandma, knowing how important follow-through is to ABA families, guided/dragged the protesting child down the main street of Pismo Beach. She did a great job of reminding him where we were going and why, and mostly ignoring his actions. Good job, Mom.

Here's the part I really wanted to write about.

I lagged behind with the baby girl in her stroller. I got to watch this meltdown from an outsider point of view. Nobody knew I was related to that kid. I got to hear the comments that were made by strangers (fans of classic car shows, no less).

I readied myself to defend my son. Readied to defend ABA. Readied to defend my mother.

But there was nothing to defend.

Most people watched and said nothing. Some smiled an empathetic smile. If a couple was walking together they might exchange a "remember that" or a "been there". Someone said "autistic". Someone said "poor kid".

But someone said, "man that lady is a saint". And someone said "Do you think I can help?"

The meltdown ended. The rest of the walk home was spent in contemplative silence.

All the time I have wasted worrying about people silently judging me as a parent was thrown out the window. This was a rough crowd... and everyone was nice. It was a perspective I had never had before. If all these strangers thought I was a tool, at least it was the right tool for the job.


  1. Great perspective for all those parents that have been there or are going thru this now....I had an ADhd child that had meltdowns in public too. Hopefully I handled life ok for him too...He is an adult now with kids and he understands me now. Hugs to all that are in challenging lives.

  2. This is awesome : ) I know, being the parent of a special needs child, that I have sympathy for these parents/kids, but to see it candidly and realize that more and more people can empathize with what we go through is so nice. My son has developmental/verbal delays, but looks fairly 'normal'. I often wonder what people think when they ask a question and he can't answer, or when they see him (he's a big kid) walking with his little stuffed pony. I cringe at the thought of them being harsh, even if its out of our earshot. I love that these people restored your faith, and took some of your worry away.

  3. Okay, you are awesome! I got a teary eyed momment because I know how it feels to worry what people are thinking or saying but REALLY wanting to not care. I've made signs for the grocery store basket reading "The child in this basket is Autistic, Screaming meltdowns may happen" Ive tried to educate people and hell I've even taken a marker and writen on the back of his shirt while at Sea World just to get people to stop with the stink eyes.(I was insainly pregnant on that trip and less spry) And It worked! I got smiles and knowing looks. I guess I underestimate people too;) Great post!

  4. Ok, this is awesome! Raising a daughter with autism has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. But, when she has one of her meltdowns in public, it is the most gut wrenching feeling in the world. You see the stares and you can see people talking, not knowing what they are saying. However, this gives me hope that may there is just one person out there that is not judging me but that is sympathzing with me. So, thank you for giving me hope!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I still feel the same way (months later). Thanks for reading ... Whoever you are.

  5. Perfectly said. We as autistic parents wonder about being the fly on the wall. Just keep moving is my motto.

  6. I have sat in the doctors office and watched a child bounce off the walls for 2 hours waiting for his mothers appt. This was before my son ever had a meltdown or acted out in public. When she left a man said if that was my child.... I spoke right up and said after having a child of my own I will never judge another mother. You do not know what is going on withthat child . And he said yeah I guess you are right. I think people are willing to become more aware and empathize with others. But get them in a judgemental groupware they will attack!

  7. You know how much I adore your mother... yet another reason why. This is a great reminder for all parents when we feel the eyes on us like laser canons - much of the time those eyes have empathy in them. And sometimes, I've learned, the eyes are in our imagination.