During my experience as an Autism mom, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen compassion, understanding, annoyance, confusion, aggravation, anger, pity, and everything in between. Not only have I witnessed those feelings from other people, but I’ve also felt them myself, so I know where they are coming from. Carter isn’t always the easiest person to be around all the time. Especially if you don’t know him or aren’t aware of his Autism and how he reacts to things. I usually try to keep Carter far enough away from other people and their space, because you never know how people feel, not just about other people’s children, but about their special needs children. Carter does a lot of jumping around, hand flapping, he gets overly excited or overly upset and that can be bothersome to people.
Many years ago at PJ’s, my local coffee shop, Carter and I were just hanging out having breakfast. Carter was wandering by the window area and just jumping around very excitedly. An older man was sitting off to the side by the windows and I noticed he was giving me dirty looks. I wasn’t sure about it at first. I thought maybe I was just imagining that, because normally I just assume everyone would be annoyed by an overly excited kid. Turned out I was right. It was dirty looks that he was shooting my way. He shot up from his seat, made his way to the other end of the coffee shop, tucked himself away in the corner and then proceeded to mumble something. Mumbling while hidden from me. Really? I could feel his tension, which in turn made me pretty defensive. Of course, I couldn’t resist engaging. My feistiness was clawing it’s way out.
“I’m sorry did you say something?” I asked.
“Yea, you heard me,” he answered back from the corner. This is when I went full throttle. It was just like all of a sudden I was going into the boxing ring for my kid. I was going to be the voice for my kid. My kid who couldn’t defend himself. Who didn’t understand the annoyance or anger of someone else. Who had no comprehension of what was going on because he was still happily playing in his own little world. I got up from my seat and walked over to him since he was obviously too much of a coward to tell me something to my face.
“If I would have heard you I wouldn’t have asked you what you said,” I responded, now standing and facing him. There was a pause for a second. Maybe he was trying to figure out what exactly to say. He mentioned something about how the coffee shop isn’t Disney World. I responded that I was aware and that it also isn’t a library. We went back and forth for a bit and he again responded in an ignorant way telling me that PJ’s isn’t a Playstation either.
A Playstation? What does that even mean? I was kind of shocked by his inability to speak to me like a mature adult. I’d never really had any problems like this with people regarding Carter.
He then said he was going to go to McDonald’s and that’s when I really got confused. McDonald’s? Another busy place with kids and noise. I rolled my eyes. I just couldn’t be involved in this battle anymore. I laughed at him and told him to have a great time. I wasn’t going to sit there and argue with this man. It just wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to explain Autism to him. I wasn’t going to apologize for my son making noise and being excited in a coffee shop. A place where blenders are constantly running and conversations are constantly being had.
In this case ignorance was not bliss. At least not for me. I don’t expect everyone to know everything about Autism or other special needs, but I guess a part of me does expect people to be a bit more understanding or at least not so rude about it.
Being a mom has definitely made me become more feisty than I was before. Taking care of a special needs kid made me become more on guard. More overprotective. I learned quickly though to not be sensitive about other people’s opinions. To not care about their judgements or lack of knowledge.
Until it comes to people in my family. I don’t expect much from strangers, but from my family I do expect support. My family knows all about Carter and how he is. We’ve all had to learn together. Learn to be patient. To try to figure out when something is wrong with him. Learn how to make him happy if he’s upset. We’ve been through a lot together. So imagine my surprise when my own brother made a comment that sent me overboard.
The other day Carter was not in a good mood. We went to my mom’s house and Carter was jumping around and having a bit of a meltdown. My brother was on his cell phone playing a game and he started to yell to Carter to calm down. I’ve definitely yelled at Carter when
I’m annoyed, but it doesn’t tend to work. Frustration doesn’t calm down frustration. Then my brother, Carter’s uncle, proceeds to say that Carter needs a butt whooping. And that’s when it started. That’s when my defenses went in. Quang told my brother that it doesn’t work, but my brother insisted that he needs one.
“Excuse me? I didn’t know that you know how to raise a kid with Autism.” He and I went back and forth. I couldn’t believe he was actually arguing with me. I let him know that he should be more supportive instead of the way he was acting. I was both annoyed and hurt. Not that I need his understanding to make me feel better, but I want it for Carter. Why would I want someone in my family to think aggressively towards Carter? To be annoyed with him? I don’t want that. Even in the worst circumstances. I struggle with that enough, so when it comes to my family I just want them to be able to try to be patient. And to try harder to make Carter feel better. I wouldn’t expect my family to act towards Carter the same way that stranger did so long ago. The only difference was that I was a little hurt this time. In this instance, the ignorance of my brother suggesting that I need to deliver a butt whooping to set Carter straight was not at all blissful. Don’t get me wrong. Carter isn’t an angel. He pushes buttons and does things he fully knows he shouldn’t do. Just like any other kid. He gets in trouble. Just like any other kid. We don’t let him do whatever he wants just because he’s Autistic. It’s important to still teach Carter about boundaries and what’s right or wrong. It’s important to teach him about consequences for not following directions. However, when he’s having a tough time with understanding something he needs more guidance, understanding and patience. Not yelling, or anger, or aggression.
I usually could care less what other people think of me or my kids. I’m not out to cause Carter any harm or suffering in order to please someone else. All I want from my family is their support. I want them to take the time to know Carter for him. Not for his Autism. He is so much more than that. If he’s having a hard time or having a meltdown, try to be calm. The last thing he needs is more frustration or confusion. It takes work, but I would hope that they would care enough as a part of Carter’s family to put in that work.
Carter can be just like other kids. He likes likes to have fun. He likes to play outside. He likes Spongebob Squarepants. He likes flying airplanes. He likes swimming. He likes trying new things now. He just has a difficult time communicating things. He has a difficult time processing things. But please, take an interest. Find out what he likes and spend some time with him. He’s such a sweet kid. We all know that. He deserves love and support. Not misunderstanding and hostility. And certainly not ignorance.
Being a good mom to a special needs kid is a tough job. Please don’t make it harder by choosing to not understand something that’s such a big part of our lives. Please don’t make it harder by making comments that are fueled by your aggravation or temper. Please do feel free to be supportive, loving, and awesome.