It’s amazing when you are in the midst of a struggle and another person just seems to appear in your path at the perfect time.
You know the feeling… when you are maybe a little bit down, feeling like more things have gone “wrong” than “right,” and you are wondering if things will improve, or if the current state of affairs is your new “normal.”
Then you make a connection with someone who actually “gets it.” He or she understands where you are, because of being there at one point, past or present. Suddenly, a bit of the weight has been lifted. It doesn’t mean that automatically, life is bliss. But it does mean that you are not alone, and that, my friends, holds a lot of power.
I recently spoke with a friend whose heart was heavy because she had again experienced a form of social shunning of her daughter. The experience was nothing new… something she has experienced for some years as she has observed both children and adults alike having little patience for her daughter’s special needs. As a parent, it never gets any easier to hear first-hand a child’s words about the hurt feelings and pain endured from social rejection. When the rejection comes from another adult, it just tends to leave you astounded.
As she and I chatted, I found myself sharing an experience from my past where I felt those similar feelings of hurt for my child, helplessness in trying to remedy the situation, and disappointment in another parent’s response to my child. While the experience was 8 long years ago and life has changed dramatically since this day, sharing it again had me in tears as I remembered the enormity of what I felt that day. I was surprised by how emotional I became and as such, found myself needing to share it with readers for a couple of reasons. First, many people have happened along my path over the years and provided that lift that comes with connection and understanding, for which I am eternally grateful. Second, I know there are MANY parents out there who have been or are currently in this same place right now… whether related to autism or any other issue. I just felt the need to put this experience out there and for readers to know there is someone else who “gets it.”
My husband and I had just received a diagnosis of Autism for our 28 month old son on Monday. While the diagnosis was no surprise to me, I was still functioning in a bit of a fog as I was adjusting to leaving career life to stay at home with our kids, juggling the usual for a mom with two children 19 months apart, and handling the daily meltdowns of a child who clearly had something to say, but was unable to say it. Our son had about 10 words in his vocabulary, but would use other sounds as his method of communicating. Day in and day out, he would be reduced to tears because I couldn’t understand what he was trying to communicate. It would be several months before we would be able to start any formal training in how to most effectively meet our son’s needs.
Until then, we just continued with life as we knew it.
Later that same week, my Mom and I took the kids for a bite to eat at a child-friendly restaurant. As we sat down and prepared to eat, my son was looking around and emitting an intermittent squealing sound. He had a big smile on his face, but it was a high-pitched, short “aaah”. Still in the midst of cutting and making bite-sized pieces, one of the employees walked over to our table. Clearly embarrassed that she was having to say something, she first apologized, but then asked if I could keep my son quiet because a customer was complaining. I was already flustered with not being able to get him to lower his voice or to stop making the noise, so I really became anxious when she approached me. I apologized to the employee and continued to talk calmly to him, trying to get him to quiet his voice, but to no avail. We hurriedly continued trying to get the kids fed when the employee came over again to let me know that if he did not stop, we were going to have to leave. (I feel it necessary to point out again that we were at an establishment where we ordered our food at a counter and sat down after carrying it to our table. I would have never been in a nice restaurant with this happening.) My son continued with the noise as she spoke to me. After she left, I quietly told my Mom, “Let’s just go.” As we started packing up the food, a woman was suddenly standing at our table.
As she jabbed her finger in my son’s face, she gritted her teeth and said, “You know, that is just a TAD bit annoying! I am trying to have lunch over there (she pointed to a seat where about a 6-7 year old boy was sitting) and it’s ruined because of this noise!” Punctuating her final words by jabbing her index finger in his face. She turned around and stormed off.
My son continued to smile, so fortunately, he was not impacted by this very upset woman. I, however, felt like all eyes were on our table. No parent wants to have the crying, screaming, or otherwise loud kid that causes everyone to think, “I wish they would shut that kid up!” or “What that kid needs is a good spanking!” Not only had I been trying to quiet him down for 10 minutes prior to someone approaching us, I had now been dressed down in front of a room full of people.
I glanced at the table nearest ours and apologized. The woman leaned toward me and swatted her hand saying, “Don’t worry about her (the angry customer)! He’s fine! We had a house full of kids…”
As we got the last of everything packed up (making the duration of our stay about 20 minutes), I asked my Mom to wait just a minute. I walked over to the customer who was so upset and quietly told her that we had just learned of his diagnosis two days ago and that we had not had any training yet, so we were all still at a loss for how to calm him. As I fought back tears, I apologized for ruining her lunch and let her know that very soon, we hoped to find better ways of understanding our son and helping him grow and develop. But until then, I told her, we are just living day-to-day and doing the best we can. Then I turned around and walked back to the table to gather my family.
My Mom and I don’t know that the woman nearest us necessarily understood what was amiss with my son, but what she did “get” was that we could use some kind words and understanding at that time… that we would appreciate some interaction that was free from judgment. The gift of this woman’s words helped tip the balance in this otherwise difficult experience.
I know these kinds of things continue to happen, because I know there are so many who do not look beyond the obvious… We can hope that as time goes on, people will realize that there are many stories and experiences that lie deep below the surface of what they see or hear. If we can draw on the depths of our own souls, we might recognize something familiar in that family across the room… humanity and just the effort to just “be.”
Until then, if you find yourself in a trying situation, know you are not alone.
The LoveU2Pieces Social Connections Program provides structured, evidence-based instruction and opportunities for children who are high functioning on the autism spectrum. While children are participating in groups, parents have the opportunity to connect and develop relationships with others who “get it.” If you wish to support our organization, you can follow this DONATE link to our secure site. Thank you for considering a gift to LoveU2Pieces. Many families rely on full or partial scholarships to provide needed opportunities for their children.