I was in Target a couple of weeks ago looking at shampoo when I heard the loudest, most piercing screams I've ever heard coming from a little one. The scream was followed by a series of shouts and noises. This continued on for a good 10 minutes. I could tell that the people around me were getting annoyed and comments were made under breaths about the parenting of the child making all the noise. Some comments weren't under breath and were loud enough for all to hear:
"Control your kid." "Oh for heaven's sake! Someone shut that kid up!"
"Who let's their child carry on like that?" "That's just ridiculous!"
I fully admit that when I heard that first screech I had a quick flash of a thought: "What in the world?!" But then, my head and heart were reminded of a conversation I'd had with my cousin years ago about her son and a similar incident. And because of that convo, my heart was full of empathy for that parent and that child.
You see, my cousin's youngest was diagnosed with autism when he was very young. The doctors were able to diagnose him early enough and my cousin fought hard for him that he was able to receive the help he needed in school and after school so that he could function well. He is the sweetest kiddo with the biggest heart, and an equally big smile to match his heart. But one day my cousin was in Target or Wal-Mart or the grocery store...or somewhere in public when her little one became so overwhelmed by a sound, a color, too many people--we don't know and it doesn't necessarily matter--that he could only communicate his discomfort, his sensory overload by screaming and more. At that time, he was unable to communicate with words what was going on for him and so he used the only tool he knew how to use---his scream. Anyone looking at him and his mom probably thought he was another bratty kid throwing a temper tantrum and a mom who wasn't doing a darn thing to stop it. I know that because, if memory serves, that's what a woman said to my cousin in the midst of the situation. Sit with that for a moment. Put yourself in my cousin's shoes. Your child is hurting, so overwhelmed by what's going on around them, but they are unable to ask for help because of their autism. Rather than being met with help, mercy, and grace, she was met with judgement. How helpless must she have felt? How scared must he have been?
That's what I remembered and thought of when I heard that child. We don't know what another person's story is. We don't know what they fight through and struggle with. We must respond with empathy, with grace.
I love this quote by Dr. Temple Grandin. It's such a great reminder of how we need to respond to kids, and adults at that, who can voice their discomfort the only way they know how. Empathy. Grace. Mercy. Friendship.
April is Autism Awareness Month. There are still so many mysteries surrounding autism, but I, for one, believe that knowledge is power. So, here are some great resources for you and your little ones about autism and those on the spectrum. I have found these helpful as I think about how I interact with my family and my friend's kids who have autism.
---The FAQs on Temple Grandin's website are more for those with autism, but I think there's great information if you know anybody with autism. Check them out here.
---Growing up Together: A Booklet About Friends With Autism. This is an easy to understand booklet for kids. Check it out here.
---8 Things I Wish Your Kids Knew About Autism. This is a post from the Huffington Post written by the parent of kids with autism. Check it out here.