I’ve had some weird encounters over the years when it came to understanding that my son was different and there have been differences between these encounters between strangers and friends….
I remember the time reality hit me about our situation was when out of tiredness and begging. I had gotten my son a McDonalds Happy Meal (It really does make him happy) and he tripped and dropped his fries. He screamed nonstop outside of the supermarket. It didn’t matter if I promised to buy him new fries or that I threatened to take away things if he didn’t just “get himself together”. He screamed, and cried, and he wouldn’t move or be calmed down. The fries on the ground are the ones he wanted and no replacement would help. That is when it hit me “Is this normal?”
You see, all I was going in the supermarket for, was some bread. So I was pleading with him “let me just go in and get some bread… Can you come in with me for just some bread”. My daughter who was also with me and was quite stressed, tried everything to make him feel better.
An aboriginal man came up to me and said “Can I buy the bread for you? I have a grandchild who is autistic, so I understand”. I tried to say through my sobs “My son isn’t autistic, he just needs to get over this” but he didn’t hear me but I nodded through my own tears of frustration. He asked me what kind of bread we buy and somehow the words fumbled out. I am a fiercely independent woman so it was hard for me to accept help, but also I was mad at the word… mad that someone assumed my son was autistic when I wasn’t there yet. I hadn’t accepted any “difference” yet. I did thank him when he returned with bread and I found some money in my wallet to pay him but I vaguely remember him giving me words of encouragement to keep going.
It’s strange because strangers have seen the worst of my family, and they have been the most encouraging (a lot from men who expressed their relation to somebody with some diagnosis). Yet most of my friends have seen the best. Some of my friends don’t even know that my son has been diagnosed with anything because they see him on his best days… but even if there is just a little thing “out of the ordinary”, I have had some less-than-encouraging comments. “You know, there was a kid that couldn’t sit still when I was young, you know what fixed him? Spanking!” which is usually the general gist of a few of the comments made by people who have known me for years. I instinctively have known never to mention what my son deals with because I knew they wouldn’t understand and yet, have found understanding, kindness, and grace in strangers who have witnessed the worst meltdowns in the most public places. The kindness of strangers sometimes has brought me to my knees of crying tears of joy when all I needed was just a bit of grace through difficult times and feelings of failure.
There was a beautiful moment not long ago where my son got “fixated” on a toy in which we definitely could not afford but he had emotionally become attached to. This led to a minimum half an hour (of a meltdown) in the store. Yup. I’m that mother! I felt by this time, knowing he had been diagnosed with sensory issues along with other things, that I had “toughened up” and thought I could had handle this, but I had started to grow weary. This old man, who I assumed must have been judging me and had been in our “vicinity” for a while, walked up to me, looked me in the eye and said “You’re doing a good job”. I could feel myself take a breath (in which I hadn’t noticed that I was holding so much in) and I smiled at him, and he smiled back and kept walking. I knew I couldn’t say thank you because I would have just cried… cried and cried. I was very thankful for those words.
This is all I ask sometimes of a community. We don’t know what we are all going through day to day but sometimes we need someone to witness our most painful and frustrating moments and still find a way to say something encouraging.
This is not to say that I haven’t had some amazing friends be there for me and my son but Sometimes strangers give unique encouragement in those moments.
Keep going! Be better!