People are always going to stare. That’s just a fact of life. They could be staring at us in a loving way or staring at us in a rude and ugly way. We’ve seen both. So what’s the best way to handle all the staring?
That’s the golden question that seems to be asked by parents who have children that are newly diagnosed. They want to know what they are supposed to do when their kid is on the floor screaming, yelling, crying, hitting, biting, kicking, all the things a public meltdown can bring.
Let that sink in for just a moment. These parents that are new on their journey are worrying about what is the correct response to handle rude stares; not how should I handle my child’s meltdown? In an already stressful situation, they are worrying about the people around them. So how are we as parents and caregivers supposed to handle the comments and the stares?
In a perfect world, I would say it’s not what we as parents need to do when our child is having a meltdown, it’s what should people of today’s society do? There are only two options for you. The first is to ask if there’s any way you can help. If you don’t like that option then maybe the second option is for you. Which is, keep walking and mind your own business. We certainly do not need you standing there with your rude stares and whispers in an already high-stress situation.
As for parents, I’m not sure that there is just one correct way to handle the stares. The best way for me is to ignore everyone around me. Whether he’s having a meltdown, yelling out because he’s mad about something, being extra silly or goofy, or if his big 6’2″ 200lb self wants a hug or kiss from one of us. I’m in that moment with him not caring what others are thinking. After almost fourteen years into this journey with him, I know people will always stare.
It took me a while to get to that point of honestly not caring about other peoples opinion of him or me. I went through all the motions of explaining he has autism, on occasion even yelling very ugly at people that he has autism. I don’t apologize for his behavior when he is having a meltdown and I sure don’t apologize for him being extra loud because he’s excited. If an apology is appropriate, yes, I will apologize to someone. Just like every child is different, we as parents and caregivers are different too. We have to figure out what’s the best way for us to handle things and sometimes that’s by trial and error.
You will eventually learn not all stares will be rude. We were five hours into our two-day road trip from Virginia to Louisiana when we stopped to get dinner in a small town. All three kids were super hyper in the restaurant. The oldest was giggling and laughing as loud as he could. He was trying to get me to talk to him like Cookie Monster. He had been in the car for the last five hours listening to Cookie Monster give directions. Thanks, Waze. The middle boy was doing everything in his power to make his little sister scream about something. Then the oldest and youngest proceeded to make everyone in the restaurant tell them hello. Needless to say, it was chaotic at our table. I noticed a couple looking our way, we made eye contact and smiled at each other. My crew, of course, kept being themselves. I kept right on refereeing the middle and youngest and talking like Cookie Monster to the oldest. Dad brought our food and we enjoyed it. The couple enjoyed their dinner too, continuing to steal glances over at our table. When they got ready to leave they came over to our table. They talked with the kids for a few seconds and then told us how much they enjoyed watching us tonight and that we have a beautiful family.
I have learned through many conversations with people who have different reasons for why they are watching us. Some are parents that are in the same boat as us. They look and are maybe seeing their life in the future or what their life was like in the past. Some have friends and extended family members that have special needs. Some people just are intrigued and admiring us. They’ll ask us different questions about our life. These are the encounters with people that put a smile on your face and hope in your heart. You get to see the good part of society. These individual encounters with strangers will give you the hope that there are people out there that will love and accept your child for who they are. Not what the rest of society thinks they should be or how they should act.
So, stares are going to happen. Good stares and bad stares. Don’t let the rude part of society keep you in your home hiding with your child. Make those memories on vacation, at the park, at the museum, at the pool. Take your kid to run errands with you. It’s your life to live don’t allow others to bring you down. Your family has the same right as everyone else to be out and about doing things. Go out and spread some awareness and have fun while you’re making those memories. If it turns out to be a bad day, remember there’s always tomorrow.