As a youngster, I was always taught to introduce a person to another. The polite thing to do was add a glowing tid- bit of information about them. Almost like giving a book review but only stating the positive. For some reason, though, all that knowledge went out the window when I realized my son was different. It used to feel as if I was in an AA Meeting. “Here is my son Chris. He has Autism, a PDD (Non specified), slight heart condition, possible KBG syndrome, and high sensory issues.” In a way, I was apologizing for my son’s behavior before it was even evident.
Years ago, the introduction was much worse and very detailed. I basically was saying sorry for a behavior my son might show and then blamed it on the disorders and diseases. I assume the reason was because knowledge was limited and not readily understood. I was also used to answering, “what’s wrong with your son”. I also noticed the judging looks thrown my way, when Chris had a meltdown at a restaurant.
I can recall the day I stopped apologizing. The day, I finally hit a wall from all the negativity. Chris was mid-year through Kindergarten, had OT/Speech therapies, and too many transitions that occurred. Picking him up from school was horrid. It took a half an hour to calm him down, just to make it out to the car. Normally, I would’ve gone home and become a hermit, however; we needed to eat and definitely needed toilet paper.
On the drive there, I carefully envisioned the store layout and my plan of action. Yes, this was like a general mapping out a battle plan. Ten minutes of grabbing items, Chris inside the cart, and my one year old in a chest snuggy; I fly to the “do it yourself register’. I spot an opening, rush the cart there, and begin scanning.
Ding. Ding. In between the Dings, I kept placing Chris back into the cart. My daughter, in the snuggy, thought I was playing a game because she laughed each time it occurred. Little did she understand, this was a meltdown not a fun, ha ha type of game mommy was playing. Finally, relief began to set in. I saw the pay button and slid my card as fast as my wrist would move. Unfortunately, relief sat in way too early because the register began singing an awful tune. You would have thought I broke the darn thing by the sound it made.
Next thing I knew, the attendant was being notified. By the look on her face, one could concur she was not happy. She walks up and coarsely says, “You can only use cash at this register. Can’t you see the sign?”“HMM, no. Sorry, I didn’t. Where is the sign?”, is all I could muster at the moment. Chris was continuing to get worse and the longer we stood there, I knew the volcano was bound to erupt. The attendant extends her hand way up in the air and yells, “See! Do you see it now?”
Without missing a beat, Chris makes a gesture with his finger. This was not a loving display of affection, either! Then, a phrase of utter disgust escaped his lips. I truly didn’t know what to be appalled at, Chris’s reaction or her action. Standing there, giggling baby and all, I almost apologized. Before I could respond, the attendant began screaming at me.
” Are you going to let him do that? Oh my God, what kind of mother are you?”
I closed my eyes briefly, and once I opened them, I could feel many eyes on us. I felt like we were at a circus but instead of being spectators, we were now the entertainment. In my head I could hear the announcer saying, “step on up. Catch a glimpse of the family before you. Pictures and videos are optional”. It was at that moment, I decided to stop apologizing and told that lady exactly how I felt. She didn’t know my son or the day he had. She had no understanding of the turmoil that filled his ears or the tornado in his mind that occurred from entering the store. She obviously had no clue what type of mother I was, let alone grasped the concept of customer service. There also was a huge lack of management because in order to be face to face with the sign; one would have to be the jolly green giant. Needless to say, this was the day I stopped apologizing for my son and began being his biggest advocate.
Ironically, years later I noticed myself in another parent. My son was at karate class. A mother came in, disheveled and clearly frustrated. Her son was adamant about not wearing part of his uniform. The more she tried to reason with him, the louder and more obtuse he became. Since we were in close proximity, practically a reach out and touch the other, I noticed the fear in her face; the fear was, “what is this lady thinking? Oh, gosh, I want to run and hide”. I even heard her mumble, “it shouldn’t be this hard”. I saw fear leave her face and replaced with relief once I said, “no it shouldn’t be, but it sometimes it is. You are fine, it’s safe here”.
She came to thank me and unloaded much off her shoulders. It was as if all the years she endured people judging her and her son, managed to flood out within a half an hour. I realized then, that she like me, address our child’s issues in private. We felt as if our heads are on a chopping block when we venture out in public. If I don’t do this or say that, my head is destined to be cut off. The reality is, I determine if that chopping block is actually there. I have the power to determine if others have a say or not.
My son is definitely different! There is no excuse for some of the reactions he has. Sometimes, I don’t see a rhyme or reason to his madness. I do know, he has no buffers, restraints, or limitations. Honestly, I admire those aspects, to a point. Sometimes, when I’m faced with long lines, unruly people, or just frustrated with situations I can relate to my son. The difference between him and I is: I keep my thoughts hidden but he shares his, the positive and not so great ones, too.
I can truly understand why some people have issues with my son’s actions or reactions. I am not saying I agree with anyone who judges my son or I. Just simply saying, they need more knowledge. I used to think, they need to walk a few minutes in my shoes! Now, I simply pose a question with one. “Have you ever wanted to say or do something, but didn’t because you were taught not to?” So far, the answer has always been the same, “yes”. I then retort with, “well, my son has been taught too, but sometimes his brain gets a virus, like a computer. It shuts down and sometimes won’t work properly”. Needless to say, either people are intrigued or leave it alone. I have also learned to pick and chose my battles. Some are worth fighting over and others not even close!