Saturday, 18 December 2010

A little request when you're doing your Christmas shopping (or any shopping really) ...

Big confession here: before I had kids I was one of those people who would shake their head and tut loudly at other people's children being loud/naughty/disrespectful in the shops.

I would sometimes even catch the eye of the person next to/in front of/behind me and make a comment along the lines of "I know what I'd do to the little darling" or "why doesn't the mother do something?"

I would vow and declare that none of my kids would ever dare to behave like that in public. Even after I had my kids and ended up with an Olympic class tantrum thrower (Karma really does come back to bite you doesn't it?), I would still wonder at the people who just stood and ignored their child's behaviour and silently mutter a pox on all their houses.

But somewhere along the line, I realised that everything is not always as it seems. Children who look 'normal' quite often have little (or not-so-little) issues that aren't immediately obvious.

I think having a child with autism, admittedly very mild autism, but autism nonetheless, has encouraged me to, when faced with difficult behaviour, take an extra deep breath, count to five, breathe out slowly and smile. Key word there is smile .. not sneer, grimace, frown, snarl or any of the other negative possibilities. It may make you seem like you've escaped from a lunatic asylum, but realistically, you're shopping at Christmas time .. you've escaped to a lunatic asylum!
(The anti-depressants have also helped majorly in my case ... I'm no longer at risk of expelling my vocal chords out of my throat and onto the floor due to screaming at the children. I can usually deal with most things in a relatively calm and rational manner. Now I just have to worry about my mind wandering .. it's too small to be out wandering on it's own!)

Now I know that at this time of the year, there will be heaps of 'little darlings' everywhere you turn and there will certainly be a hefty percentage of spoilt rotten little brats chucking tantrums to get what they want. You'll usually be able to hear them the second you walk into the shops and you will probably know their name within the first ten seconds as their parent or guardian threatens increasingly dire consequences if they don't "!"

However, there will also be a much smaller group of kids whose parents are seemingly ignoring the escalating wails or throwing of things out of the trolley. These parents may look slightly shell-shocked, have a look of steely determination or one of total resignation. Some of these parents are trying out a new tantrum control method (usually on their under-3-year-old) and the rest of these parents are probably like the long-suffering woman I saw at Kmart last week.

She had three children, two boys and a girl, all still in their school uniforms and all between about 7 and 11 years old. Important note here: all the children appeared 'normal' and by that I mean no obvious physical disabilities or any of the more common signs of mental disabilities.

The boys were waiting patiently for their turn to have their items scanned while the girl was chucking a major hissy fit about having her shopping taken out of her bag to be scanned by the very annoyed checkout operator. Her wails of displeasure were getting louder and louder and people were turning to stare and starting to mutter those immortal words of "what that child needs is a smack", "spoilt brat" and the perennial favourite of "I know what I'd do to her". I have to admit, I was getting a bit annoyed myself as I already had a headache and the noise certainly wasn't helping.

It was at that point that I saw the despair on the mother's face as she registered all the murmuring and tried to restrain the little girl from taking one of her brother's toys to put in her bag. I then watched as she leaned down to the oldest boy and said quietly "you know she doesn't understand, don't you? Thank you for not yelling at her and making it worse."

I then realised that in all the noise, I hadn't heard the girl speak a clear word; it was all just noises of distress. The mother was trying to apologise to the checkout girl for the noise by explaining that her daughter was autistic, couldn't speak and didn't understand why she had had her shopping bag emptied. (If the checkout operator had moved faster than the speed of dead and allowed the little girl to put her things back in her own bag, instead of insisting that they all go into a plastic bag, most of this could have been avoided!)

Due to the level of noise the girl was making, no-one else heard the explanation so the muttering and murmuring was still going on. I turned away, feeling suitably chastened as I had 'been there, done that' and knew how it felt and was silently beating myself up for not being more understanding in the first place.

The woman next to me, who had been waiting there with her three perfectly-behaved Stepford children, caught my eye. She frowned, shook her head and said "I know what I'd do to her".

My reply? (said loud enough for all to hear)

"There's no point in smacking her. She's autistic and doesn't understand."

Most of the murmuring stopped immediately and there were a few other chastened faces in the crowd.

Feeling a bit embarrassed for having spoken up, I turned around just in time to see the look of relief on the mother's face. I shrugged and smiled and watched as she walked away with her daughter now happy because her shopping bag was once again full.

So to get back to the request I mentioned in the title:

When you see a 'normal-looking' child misbehaving or making a lot of noise for what seems like little reason, remember, everything isn't always as it seems.

Stop, take a deep breath, count to five, exhale and smile. If you can't do that, walk as far away as you can.

And give the parents the benefit of the doubt. (I wish more people had done that for me!)

They are doing the best they can.


E. said...

Great post.I bet you made that mother's day. Good on you!

My ASD child didn't lose it at the shops too much - probably because I stopped taking him. But the NT child would be on the floor kicking at crying. I'd be the mother standing and watching from a distance.

Lita said...

I love this post Donna. So many are quick to judge, and I won't deny, before kids I was the same. But then I had kids, and also spent time with my autistic nephew, adn you soon realise not all is as it seems. Bless you for speaking up!

Belinda Chan Oates said...

THANK YOU for posting this ! I was like ; WOW ! Someone GETS THIS ! Although I dont have a special needs child of my own - I do take my special needs students out on "Community Access". The idea is to allow the children to learn how to behave appropritately in public and to teach them how to access their environment with "life skills". At times, we have had a few "hairy" moments with members of the public tut-tutting at me (the teacher) or I get the "raised eye brows...FIX it" look.
Its nice when people acknowledge what I do - If I had a $1 for every person that said "I dont know how you do what you do" I'd be a super rich woman by now !!