30 Days with Autism, Day 20

April 20th: Autism has taught me immense compassion for the parents of the screaming children in public places.

I was walking through Target one day (wow, how many of my blogs start with me at Target? I really need to find a new place to shop.) Anyways, I was walking through Target after church. I had LJ with me and K was at home with my mother-in-law. Walking through the store, you could hear it from several aisles away. Well, not ‘it’. Him. There was a very unhappy child in a shopping cart in the grocery section and he was making it very clear he preferred to be elsewhere. As I proceeded with my shopping, I began to hear things for other people. Snide comments, rude remarks, they were staring at this screaming child as if he were a personal offense to their lives. It was amazing to see it from an outside point of view. As the parent of an autistic child, I’m usually on the receiving end of the stares and comments. It was very different seeing how this mother and her child were being treated behind their backs. She was desperate to finish her shopping quickly, but since she was also carrying an infant on her hip, I’m sure you can understand her difficulty. The “screamer” in her cart, the baby on her hip and nobody around with any more help than “you should have left him at home” stares. Several times during my trip, I passed by this poor woman, juggling one baby while trying to keep another one quiet. As I headed away from the grocery section and toward the baby clothes, an older woman stopped me. I’d never met this woman before in my life. I don’t believe I have seen her since that day. She started by telling me how her kids NEVER would have acted like that in public. They knew she would never stand for it. She would have taken them right out of the store and straight home had they behaved that way. She would have left the cart right there and taken them to the bathroom for a “talking to”. Clearly this woman was from the “children should be seen and not heard” genre of parenting. I let her talk. She needed someone to voice her opinion about this stranger and her children and it seemed I was the perfect stranger to share in her opinion. I let her finish with what was clearly an invitation for me to join in on the “mom bashing”. I looked her in the face and spoke as clearly and most concisely as I could:

“ My daughter has autism. She is prone to sudden, wild, violent tantrums on a whim. There doesn’t have to be an apparent reason for them. We could be standing under the speaker when the store announcements come on. The smell in the bathroom could be too much for her to handle. She could miss her daddy and not have the ability to say so because her brain won’t let her mouth use the words she has inside her. My daughter has autism. Uncontrollable outbursts come with the territory. I don’t know her story, but I try not to judge other parents for how their children behave because my daughter has autism.”

The woman, clear taken back by an opinion she had not been expecting, just stared at me. I could literally see the light bulbs in her head slowly get brighter. She looked at me and said, “I never thought about it like that.” And she walked away. I ran into the frazzled mom in the children’s clothing section. She was more frazzled and apologizing for the child in the cart. I looked at her, really looked at her, and saw myself. I told her about K and that her son didn’t bother me at all. She was really grateful for the understanding. Talking with her a few minutes more, I discovered the little one, screaming in the cart, has a twin brother at home with daddy.

Too many times you get the stares, the rude looks, the comments, you can just see it in their eyes that they are judging you, mentally belittling your child, and there’s just so little you can do about it. Autism has taught me true compassion. It has taught me how to see the people behind the fit. The family struggling behind the tantrum. It has taught me to see, truly see, the people around me.

I am the mother of the screaming child in Target.
I am the mother of the polite child at school.
I am the mother of awkward child at the playground.
I am the mother of the well behaved child at the restaurant.
I am the mother struggling with a tantrum in the aisle at the supermarket.
I am the mother who is stared at, judged, and hated.
I am the mother who “can’t control her child”.
I am the mother whose child is mentally belittled by grown adults who know better.
I am the mother of a child with autism.

I understand.

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