When a Man at Walmart Asked How I Can Let My Son With Autism 'Act Like
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my son Dominic’s autism journey is that not everyone is going to be kind. People will stare or judge you for the movements your child makes and the public meltdowns.
One of my earliest memories of a public meltdown happened in a Walmart. Dominic was about 2 and half years old, and it was a busy day. He’s sensitive to noises, and large crowds can make him anxious. He became overwhelmed and started to scream and cry. I immediately picked him up and headed out the door so he could calm down. A few people stared at us as I was practically running for the door, but most seemed to try and avoid looking at us. I was probably about 50 feet from the door when a man turned and glared at me. He yelled, “How can you let your son act like that?” I stopped, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I’m sorry my son’s autism offends you!” He quickly turned and walked away. While it may have not been the most polite reaction, it felt good to stand up for my son.
As I was learning the ropes, we had quite a few experiences like that. People would scoff and stare when my son would begin to “fuss.” I was always quick to try and remove him from the situation, but a lot of times I wasn’t quick enough to escape judgment. There were some days when we would get a smile or a nod. Whether or not they understood what we were going through, I’ll never know, but it was a kind gesture all the same.
When Dominic was about 3, we took a trip to Denny’s. It was busier than I had hoped, and by the time we got our food, he was done with our outing. I asked the waitress for some boxes and my check. When she returned, she informed me my food was paid for. I don’t know who paid for our food, but it’s a day I’ll never forget.
Dominic is now 9, and he still doesn’t like going to the store and most other places. But I’ve learned how to get in and out of places a lot quicker, and he has learned how to cope for longer than 10 minutes. I’ve also learned how to read him a lot better, and I can typically see if an outing is going to end in a meltdown. If that’s the case, I let him stay at home. If staying at home isn’t an option, the promise of a special treat or a set of headphones and a good ole’ Metallica song can usually do the trick.
We have grown a lot since that day in Walmart, and while at the time it was both enraging and hurtful to be treated that way, I’m thankful it happened. It prepared me for what was to come.