Anyone who has ever taken a kid out in public on a regular basis knows to fear The Tantrum. It’s not the loud shrieks, tears and limp body trick that make them so unbearable (though those things hardly make them pleasant). Rather, it’s the looks and open commentary from the other adults in the store or on the plane or around the waiting room that make it all feel so humiliating.
So imagine if meltdowns were pretty much a guarantee every time you went out with the kids. And not just your toddler kids, but your school-aged ones. The ones that seem like they should know better. Tantrums aren’t just a phase for a lot of autistic children. Their parents sign on for years of dagger stares and critical comments. And really, there’s just one thing they’d like the public to know:
On the second annual World Autism Day, CNN.com tells the story of Heather Moores, who has three children between the age of 4 and 1. All three of her sons are autistic. In her few short years as a mother, Moores has seen the uncharitable side of grown adults on various outings with her children.
Their disability isn’t obvious, and so even at her pediatrician’s office, she’s gotten The Look from other parents while her boy counted objects on the wall. She’s learned she’s the world’s worst mother, when her three-year-old tries to run into traffic because he’s fascinated with cars. It’s enough to make parents not want to leave the house. But that can’t be good for anyone.
What Moores and other parents of children with autism want others to know is that the tantrums are an expected part of the disability. There’s no stopping them. And, have a little understanding! When Moores reaches her limit, she explains to strangers that her son has autism.
I’m not raising a child with autism, but one of my kids really knew how Melt. It. Down (she has mercifully outgrown this years-long phase). Leaving the house with her took many deep breaths and a strong commitment to actually step across the threshold and close the door behind us. I don’t need a reason like autism to drum up empathy for parents in the middle of a meltdown and it’s sad we’re not terribly tolerant of crying children by default.
When I hear a kid screaming across the coffee shop — yes, where I’m trying to work! — I throw my fist up in solidarity, try to make eye-contact with Mom or Dad. If they get close enough, I yell — probably a little too loudly — “I’ve been there! You’re doing great!” Even though screaming children get on my last nerve, too, I’m not going to pile on.