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Autism Parents: Have Some Mercy!

By Madeline Holler |

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:

It’s normal.

On the second annual World Autism Day, 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.

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Autism Parents: Have Some Mercy!

  1. Em says:

    While I like your general sentiment, I have to point out a few things:

    “Their parents sign on for years of dagger stares and critical comments.”

    Actually, no parent “signs on” to raise a kid with autism.

    “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.”

    No, that’s not right at all. She says that she’s mad to FEEL like the worst mother when others are rude to her.

    Finally, I think you meant to tag this with “Autism spectrum disorders,” not “Autism spectral disorders.”

  2. Rosana says:

    Since I became a mom, tantrums from other kids do not bother me, I have dealt with so many ignorant and rude adults in my life (who should know better) that a kid that does not understand why he/she cannot get something is completely normal for me.
    I even manage to keep my cool during my kid’s tantrums since they only last about 30 seconds.

  3. Leigh says:

    I still remember the day almost three years ago I carried my son kicking and screaming out of the grocery store (because I wouldn’t let him have another free cookie). I was also carrying two bags and a gallon of milk. I finally had to leave the food on the curb to get him in the car as he kept making a run for it back into the grocery store. As I struggled with him, I hear, “Hang in there, Mom! I wish I had been firmer when my kids were that age.” A lady with her teenage daughter (who looked morified) were walking by. She could not have said anything else that would have made me feel more validated. I was actually able to smile and thank her. I hope I get to pay it forward. She definitely made my day.

  4. Mandy says:

    As the mother of an Autistic child I appreciate this article and the attention that it brings to the fact that there is nothing we can do to stop our childrens meltdowns. They are due to our child being on sensory overload and not being able to understand and in many cases not being able to communicate either. We’d have meltdowns too if we had to deal with the world the way that autistic children do. Check out an article called “10 Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew”, just google it and you’ll be amazed at what they deal with that you would never think about. I’ve raised my autistic son for 9 years now and it even gave me a little more insight into his world and how things are for him.

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