Today was grocery day. I loaded Gideon and Sophie into the car and we headed to the WalMarts. They needed to get out of the house. I wanted Sophie's opinion on what to get. She can actually voice her wants and preferences now!
We're walking down the aisles; Gideon is in the seat of the cart and Sophie is next to me. Sophie is gleefully pointing at things she recognizes and calling out the names. She repeats things often and wants me to repeat them, too. I keep her out of the way of other shoppers as best I can but she's 4 and she's fast. She listens well, though, and comes back to me every single time I call her name. I have to call it a lot.
Gideon is DONE WITH THIS about halfway through the aisles. He starts whining and hitting at me. I know this behavior. He just wants to be held.
Aside: We're almost certain that Gideon is going to test somewhere on the spectrum. He only shows two feelings; happiness and frustration. The rest of the time, he is a blank slate. He lines up toys and builds sculptures that no 2-year old should be able to see. He is almost perfectly mute except for a few repetitive speeches from TV and songs. I can already see stimming when he gets upset. The only thing that is different is that he seems to crave rather than shy away from physical touch. It MUST be from me, though. I have to hold him a certain way when he gets upset. I have to speak to him or sing his lullabye.
I stop our cart, make sure Sophie is holding onto the side and looking at the cracker selection and reach down to hug Gideon. I speak softly to him and we count to ten. He perks up a little and we go on our way. It's then that I see a young woman giving me a horribly dirty look. She walks away with a young man while muttering something about "spoiled brats".
I desperately wanted to turn around and say something witty, scathing and educational to this woman. I wanted to yell at her that we were actually having a very good day. I wanted to tell her about all of the leaps that Sophie had done over the last month. I wanted to tell her why she was so very wrong about my children.
Instead, I turned around and asked Sophie whether she wanted Cheez-Its or Goldfish. She wanted Goldfish. The color ones.
That woman was ignorant. She has no idea what my family struggles with every single day. She chose to make a snap decision based on what she saw. She saw a very tall girl who looks to be about 5 that can barely speak running back and forth across the aisles while her mother called her back every 3 minutes. She saw a little boy whining and smacking his mother and the mother just cradled him like it was OK.
Autism, PDD-NOS, Aspergers and other spectrum disorders don't show on the outside. It's not like having a child in a wheelchair or a child who uses sign language. Our kids usually just look rude and poorly parented. In reality, those kids are my life. Not a day goes by where I don't try to teach them something about God, manners, speech or anything else I can do. I feel like I have to teach sideways because that's how they see the world. It's slow going because I have to learn them first, then translate what I want to teach into their language and then teach them.
The next time you see a mother struggling with her children, please don't make a snap decision. That child may be battling something you can't see. That child might just be late for a nap. Either way, give an encouraging smile and let that mother know that she's going to be OK.