Sunday, April 29, 2012

Autism - It's Ok to Cry

I was just in Save-On Foods doing my usual Sunday grocery shop (not sure why that place always seems to be the setting for incidents for me), and I came upon a situation that hit quite close to home on an emotional level. You will typically find my blogs quite light and amusing as far a subject matter goes, but this one is about something very near and dear to my heart--autism.

When my daughter Antonia was almost two, she was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It would be impossible for me to explain her story here given it’s quite lengthy, full of ups and downs, triumphs and breakdowns, advocacy and frustrations, etc., and it is most certainly a story saved for a future published book that I’m already writing. Those who are close to me know most of Antonia’s tale quite intimately, but even then, as a mother of a child with autism, there is no way to fully explain to someone what exactly it feels like, and what it’s like to deal with the emotional train wreck you end up becoming at the end of most days.

So there I was, trying to find the hottest salsa possible in the deli, when the deafening sound of screaming and crying entered into the store. I will admit, my first thought was that if I could have only been on my way out instead of just starting--let’s face it, no one likes to hear a child crying. It got closer and closer, until finally I had no choice but to check out what was happening, which was now right next to me. I froze for a second--the scene looked all to familiar. It was a child of about two and a half, sitting in a kids buggy (the ones with the steering wheels) with a very frustrated yet despondent look, just wailing out words and grunting that made no sense--I recognized that look. Then I glanced at the mother, and my heart went out to her. She was trying so hard to calm him down and was so embarrassed about the obvious scene that her child was causing while also attempted to order something at the deli.

I thought long and hard about seeing if I could offer some help. It’s interesting--sometimes you don’t know if a family is denial about a potential disability of a child (or even if there is one), so the last thing you would want to do is draw attention to something that may or may not be acknowledged from the parent’s perspective. One last look at the mother gave me my answer--she really seemed beside herself, and as I said, the overwhelming feeling of being able to relate began to take hold.

Incidentally, I walked past a few disgusted and disapproving women who were cloistered around the deli and were whispering to each other about how atrocious the child’s behaviour was and what a horrible mother he had for just letting him carry on. I shot them a glance that said “don’t worry, I’ll be back for you later” as their so called whispering was definitely within earshot of the mother.

I quickly dashed over to the section at the beginning of the store where they had some little toys and grabbed one of those squishy balls (there’s no other way of describing those things, sorry). I came back to the mother, and if her child was loud before, he had taken it up a few decibels by the time I returned. I gave him the ball and he immediately quieted down. He was absolutely fascinated with it--and I knew he would be, because sometimes being able to touch and feel something (it doesn’t have to be a toy either) can draw the focus and attention for an autistic child. The tactile approach can provide a stress-relieving feeling even at the worst of times (that’s exactly why those squishy balls were designed for--only they were meant for the stressed-out corporate world instead). Antonia used to play with all kinds of things that kept her fingers and hands busy--it was an instant calming mechanism for her and still is.

Words cannot describe the look on the mother’s face--she just stared at me in disbelief, as if I had worked some kind of magic. I explained to her why it was working, and relayed that it was from years of experience. And as I gave her a big hug, tears welled up in her eyes as she quietly said thank you. It took everything I had to keep it together myself--I would have only wished that someone had done that for me when I needed it.

I then turned my attention to the hen-pecking group of women who so callously felt the need to kick someone when they were down. They had moved on to the bakery now and I let them know, in my own special way, what I thought of THEIR behaviour--at the least the child had an excuse--what was theirs? I also felt the need to point out to all three of them that they should perhaps seek out some professional fashion advice before they go out in public again. I know, not necessary but if you were there with me, you would have agreed that the shocking look on their faces when I uttered that last bit was priceless.

So next time you witness a child losing it somewhere, stop and think for a second before passing judgement on the parent--it’s quite possible that the child might have a disability like autism and the parent is doing the very best they can to cope with the situation. Give them a smile and show them empathy instead--believe me, it will go along way, and they will appreciate the gesture more than you will ever know.

Antonia is going to be 16 this year--my, how times flies. At 5’10”, a slim build and gorgeous long blonde hair, all those dreams of mine that count her in becoming a future runway model don’t seem that lofty--after all, I did see a picture of a model that looked almost exactly like her in the latest Vogue. People often ask me, “What does her future hold?”, and my response is always the same, “Just like everyone else, her future is unwritten.”

1 comment:

  1. I love this story, so, so much. I wish people would try harder to be more compassionate, more empathetic, more helpful and less judgmental. I bet your somewhat simple gesture of support and compassion helped far beyond the grocery store. Way to go Denise!!