Several weeks ago I stopped at an automotive repair shop to get a quote on some work that needed to be done to my car. I figured it wouldn’t take too long and that my son could handle a bit of a wait (boy, was I wrong). That day, I learned how cruel total strangers can be when your child is different.
My son has high-functioning autism and sensory processing disorder. Odds are if you are reading my blog you are probably either dealing with something like this yourself or you know someone who is. My hope is that this will also reach people who know nothing about the challenges of a child who is on the spectrum or has some other acronym.
Sensory issues can best be described as a heightened awareness to sounds, smells, sights and any other sense. Sensory Processing Disorder can make you feel like you are spilling out of control and most people who are affected, children especially, don’t know how to handle the barrage of sensory input that they receive. Some kids seek heavy input, they like to push things, pull things, and jump off of things. Others are avoidant, they won’t touch certain things, don’t like sounds, etc. Imagine if you will that you drank too much, or you were on some sort of a bad acid trip or having some insane reaction to medication. That out of control feeling can be what it is like to experience SPD.
Now that you have some background, back to my story. We were waiting for the car to get checked out and the lady behind the counter as awesome enough to put a children’s show on the TV; things were going pretty well. I was actually going to accomplish something that I didn’t have to have my other half do after working all day. In walks a lady with her daughter who I will from this point refer to as Other Kid and Other Mother. My son wanted to check them out as he does with all new people. He did and was sufficiently satisfied that these people were okay to be there. The little girl went to the soda machine to get a Hawaiian Punch and that’s when things began to go awry. My son immediately went after her (first nasty look from Other Mother). I went to pick him up to remove him and he threw himself on the floor, screaming, banging his head, limbs flying around and grease in his blonde hair (second nasty look and big sigh from Other Mother). I managed to scoop him up but not before he kicked me square in the eye. It caught me off guard (usually does…) so I lost my grip. At this point he has one shoe on and is diving for the soda that the little girl has now left on the window sill. In slow motion I watched as my son leaped 007 style through the air, swiped the soda spilling it EVERYWHERE including on Other Mother. Now I have the desk attendant giving me dirty looks, Other Kid is screaming that he took her soda and Other Mom is positively livid that he spilled it on her. As I collect paper towels to try to clean up while hanging on to my now hysterical son, profusely apologizing and offering to pay her dry cleaning bill and buy new sodas it hits me. Other Mother let loose a deluge of derogatory remarks that will forever be seared into my memory and I am so glad my little man will probably never remember this incident.
Here is a brief list: “you’re probably a welfare mom” (what?), “you’re kid needs a good ass kicking” (wow, I usually hear spanking, ass kicking is a bit harsh…), “worst mom ever”…”ghetto white trash…” I am pretty sure I heard “crack head” in there somewhere…all while I am still apologizing profusely, cleaning up and comforting my child. In the mean time, 2 more customers walk in to witness the chaos. I ran outside so that the lady behind the desk could hear her phone conversations and help her customers. As I was cleaning off my greasy, dirty, tear stained two year old with baby wipes Other Mother sashays out of the shop to get into her car where, once buckled in, she yells out the window “you are the perfect example of someone who should never have kids” (Me? I’m that parent?).
Heartbreak. Rage. Embarrassment. What emotion didn’t I feel? This was the first time we had been under that kind of attack, I understood her anger, and I really did. I have looked at other parents in disdain, thinking I knew what they and their child were all about.
I am sharing this story because I am really hoping that if you ever see a parent and their child encountering a similar situation, a tantrum in the store, a fit in the parking lot that you won’t add to their grief by giving disapproving looks and harsh words because the bottom line is you don’t know what is going on, you only know what you see. If you must do something, offer a smile or a look of encouragement. If you must say something, offer a kind word, a simple “bless your heart” would do. Yes, there are bad parents out there but there are so many good ones who are literally dedicating every waking hour of their day to advocate for and teach their child and for those parents a little kindness can be fuel to make it through one more long day.