what I want you to know: where is the love? (compassion and autism)

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions.  It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.

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Today’s post was written by Lana at Along Came the Bird.  She is the mom of three girls, and her youngest was diagnosed with Autism.

Have you ever been out in public and seen a child misbehaving?

Who hasn't, right?

I distinctly remember eating at Chuy's one time and I kept hearing a child just shrieking at the top of his lungs.

I ignored it for a while because I've been there myself and staring at someone when their child is losing his mind isn't really all that helpful.

But it went on for quite a while and I finally took a look around, trying to determine which child was making the racket.

I identified the table where the sound seemed to be coming from but was confused because I didn't see a kid there.  Then I realized he was actually under the table just giving his parents (and the other diners) an earful while they were calmly eating their supper.

I bet there was some indigestion at that table.

Now let's get really honest here and think about how many times we're been out in public, seen a child misbehaving, and thought to ourselves, "that child just needs......." or "if that were my kid.....".

I've done it countless times myself.

But I must say that I've had a little perspective shift since Lily (who has autism) came along.

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Now when I see a child wailing away, I cut the parents some slack and assume that there just might be more going on than what I observed in my 30 second encounter.
Unless Paul Harvey shows up with "the rest of the story", I no longer think that I know what might be best for this child who is a total stranger to me.

Let me tell you a little story that demonstrates what I've learned through Lily.
I'm in my neighborhood HEB a couple weeks ago, just shopping along and minding my own business.

I don't have any of my children with me.

Which means I can really take time to choose the best bananas but it also means I have no one to blame when I forget the bread.

Then the sound of a child crying reaches my ears.

But this is no ordinary crying because Mom isn't buying Lucky Charms today.

This is a frantic, almost out of control wailing with some nonsensical phrases thrown in.
And it doesn't go away.

In fact, it only gets louder.

I'm not exaggerating (like a good preacher's wife would) when I say you could literally hear this child throughout the store.

I throw my last item in the cart and head for the checkout, where the sound is now coming from.

And I see this poor woman with two children - one baby who's doing just fine and this little boy who is completely wigging out.

Bingo!  The source of the crying.

Everyone in the store is pretty much avoiding this little family like the plague.  And of course, most of them are doing that ever helpful stare I mentioned above.

So, while trying to make angry eye contact with strangers, I march my buggy right up behind this woman and her kiddos.

I lay my hand on her shoulder and ask if there's anything at all I can do to help.

This exhausted and embarrassed mother turns around to me with big tears in her eyes and kind of shakes her head.  She says, "I just needed a few things.  I couldn't put off coming to the store any longer."

My heart just broke for her.

Had I been thinking straight, I would've just told her to take her kids and go to her car.  That I would buy her groceries and bring them out to her.

That would've solved the immediate problem.

But I wanted to her to know something.

I wanted her to know that I've been there before.  I understood.  She wasn't alone.  And that while everyone else was simply watching, I wasn't afraid to approach her.  To talk to her.  To show some compassion and understanding.

It really didn't matter if her child was losing his mind over Lucky Charms or if he had an uncontrollable crying disorder.

We've all been in her shoes.

At the end of the day, a moms gotta do what a moms gotta do.   And sometimes, a moms just gotta go to HEB.

As it turns out, this mom told me something I already suspected.

Her son has autism.  He was frantically trying to be understood but there was a definite communication breakdown.

I told her that I had a child with autism as well.

I noticed an older lady standing on the fringes of our conversation and once the "A" word was spoken, she stepped forward, identified herself as a special education teacher and asked if she could talk to the boy.


She successfully distracted him with talk of what color balloon he might like to have and if he would like to play the free "buddy bucks" game by the door.

She worked some serious magic on that boy.

I told the mom that if I was her, I would hire that lady to come home with me on the spot!

She finally smiled just a little bit, paid for her groceries, and headed home with two happy children.

I like to think that while the grocery store was still a stressful experience, maybe - just maybe, it was a little easier that day.

So why am I telling you this?

So that you can pat me on the back and say what an amazingly incredible person I am, of course!

Not.

I want you to be an incredibly amazing person.

Anyone can just stare.

Don't be like everyone else!  Be bold!  Share some love!


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