Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket

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The following is an excerpt of an article I wrote for Parents.com. Note: I do not describe my child’s meltdown in much detail because I feel that would be disrespectful to him. The details I did share were in order to share the importance of kindness, patience, and acceptance.

I have been a parent for over ten years now, and for a large part of those years I have also been an Autism parent. It has been quite the eventful journey; full of twists, turns, and lessons along the way. In my house we call it “Not Boring,” and have come to celebrate my son’s uniqueness. Back when my two boys were small and I was new to the Autism world, however, I spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. I wish I could go back in time and reassure that worried mother, “Everything is going to be okay.”

One day in particular stands out in my mind. Many years ago I attempted the ambitious feat of grocery shopping with two small boys. Our trip to Kroger took longer than I would have liked, and the sights and sounds became overwhelming for my youngest. At the time he was pre-verbal, and his lack of ability to communicate seemed to heighten his moments of frustration. At that point I knew that he was facing developmental delays, and suspected Autism, but I had not discovered how to best help him when he became upset. I also had not yet learned all his triggers, and constantly walked around in a state of high alert because I never knew what the day would bring.

We finally finished shopping and approached the checkout counter to pay. I abruptly took a package of rice cakes out of the hands of my youngest son without thinking, and placed them on the conveyor belt. He was surprised and upset, because rice cakes were his favorite food at the time. A scream came out of his mouth and he took his frustration out the object nearest to him: the soft flesh of his older brother. My firstborn started crying, my youngest kept shrieking, and I desperately tried to calm the scene and comfort both children. I soon became completely overwhelmed, and all I could do was press my face against the soft hair of my oldest son and sob. I cried for his hurt, I cried for my own fears, and I cried because it broke my heart to see my youngest baby get so upset. Yet, as disturbing as it was for me, I knew it must be even more terrifying for him to feel so overwhelmed.

So there we stood, immobilized in the middle of the checkout lane… 

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To read the rest of the story please visit the original post, Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket  at the Parents.com Special-Needs Now blog.

(Image is via Shutterstock and was posted on the original article.) 

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Celebrate what makes you unique! It’s Not Boring. Seriously.

So Close Your Eyes on Hushabye Mountain…


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Ever have one of those parenting moments that hit you right in the soul? And then you get all emotional, and even though you’re fully aware of the fact you’re being totally ridiculous there’s nothing you can do stop it? That happened to me tonight while I was tucking my 10-year-old son into bed, and it left me gasping for breath. I shouldn’t have been so surprised after what had happened earlier in the evening. My husband left the room while I was flipping channels, and when he returned a mere three minutes later I was watching “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and weeping. Mamma’s got a lot of emotion tonight, and apparently seeing a very young Dick Van Dyke sing the haunting lullaby “Hushabye Mountain” was more than I could handle. It brought a flood of emotions and memories from growing up, as well as an unexpected wave of longing for the fast-waning childhood of my own two boys. I generally try not to be a clingy parent, but am also increasingly and painfully aware that my moments with them are slipping by far too quickly. Sometimes I see them growing up right before my eyes and I just can’t stand it. I had also spent a large part of the day today trying not to dwell on some regrets about things I wish I had done differently in their younger years. Regret is a funny thing- it makes us forget all the good while we focus on the bad. Regret is also a place in which I try not to dwell, but for some reason tonight it was harder to fight.

I managed to pull myself together and went to tuck my eldest son into bed. I lay down beside him in the dark and held him as I began to sing a lullaby. I didn’t get many words out before the tears started streaming down my cheeks. I stopped singing and held him as tightly as I could, already mourning the time when he would no longer want Mommy to tuck him in at night. He is right at the cusp of turning into a tween, but I can still picture him as an infant like it was yesterday. As proud as I am of the amazing young man he is becoming, sometimes I miss that chubby-cheeked little baby so much that it hurts. What I wouldn’t give to feel that tiny little body resting against mine just one more time.

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So tonight I held fast to my big boy, wishing that I could somehow freeze time and remember forever how it feels: to be Mommy, to be needed, and to be loved unconditionally (before all that teen angst and aloofness sets in).

My son noticed that I had stopped singing and instead had begun shaking a little bit. He asked, “Um, what are you doing?”

“Just crying,” I replied.

“Why?’

“I was just thinking how proud I am of you, how much I love you, and how you’re growing up so fast *sob*. I am just feeling a lot of feelings and am a little bit overwhelmed.”

(Teasingly)~ “You’re weird.”

Then we laughed, and I kissed my son goodnight and closed the door. Knowing that in the morning he will be one day older, one day closer to sailing far away from me. I just hope that our moments together and the lessons I have tried to teach him will be enough. Enough to help him be brave and strong out there in the world. And enough to always help him find his way back home.

*So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain
Wave goodbye, to cares of the day
And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain
Sail far away from Lullaby Bay

(*Lyrics from “Hushabye Mountain” in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The image at the top of this post is from one of my favorite Fairy Tale books. A book that I regret never reading to my children, but plan on changing that regret tomorrow…)

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The Awesome Older Brother

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My little pumpkin on his first Halloween

My firstborn son is AWESOME. Here is a picture of him on his first Halloween… isn’t he ADORABLE? Sometimes I miss that sweet baby and those fat cheeks, but I am massively proud of the young man that he is becoming (almost 10!). He is smart, kind, creative, responsible, caring, funny, and even occasionally snarky (but in a good way). He has a strong sense of right and wrong and hates to see other people in uncomfortable situations (which has the unfortunate side effect of limiting our movie choices at times). He feels things very deeply and doesn’t always talk about it, but shows it it other ways. He also still loves to hug his mamma, and will reach out to hold my hand when we walk down the street. There is still a hint of little boy left in him and I am trying to cherish every moment. Sometimes when he thinks no one is looking I hear him singing to himself. Every time I find myself getting annoyed at the noise I remember that all too soon he will be grown-up and the singing will stop, so I smile and enjoy the music.

My oldest son is also an incredible companion and occasional caretaker for his younger brother, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Siblings of children with special needs are quite often the unsung heroes of the family. They can be amazing advocates for their siblings, and learn about patience, compassion and diversity as the result of their upbringing.

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I Watched You Dance: What I wish I could have told the father of an adult son with Down Syndrome (SeriouslyNotBoring.com)

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Dear Father: I once watched you and your adult son, who has Down Syndrome, enjoying an outdoor summer concert together. I still think about that day, because I couldn’t stop staring at the two of you (but not for the reason one might think). The relationship you have with your son was one of the most beautiful, precious things I have ever seen. It brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to talk to you and your son so badly, but out of respect for you (and my husband, who gets embarrassed when I make a scene) I simply observed from a distance. But today, as I reflect on what I witnessed, you continue to have my admiration. Continue reading

Trains! And Kindness!

Many years ago, back in our preschool days, my family had the pleasure of visiting the Crossville Model Railroad Club  in Crossville, TN. It was an incredible experience, not only because of the intricate train displays, but also because of the overwhelming kindness we encountered during our visit.

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We were traveling to Nashville and had heard about this impressive train display that was en route. We knew we had to see it since there were TWO little train fanatics in our house (ages 3 and 4.5). Our home was basically all trains, all the time, so this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. The Model Railroad Club rents space in an outlet mall and has a whole storefront FULL of different size model train layouts.  The only problem was that we would be driving through on a THURSDAY afternoon, a time when they used to not be open.  I contacted a club member named Mike Braunstein via e-mail about a week ahead of time and inquired about setting up a private train viewing, as indicated on their website. He responded very kindly that they did not generally do private viewings for anyone but groups. He continued on to say that they usually had some folks working on the displays almost every day, and “if you care to stop and see if anyone is there I am sure they would be more than glad to show your family around. Depending on which display group is working they can probably run a few trains.”

*SIGH*.  “Stopping by” and risking letting my kids see a train utopia through locked doors without actually being allowed to go inside was NOT an option. My youngest has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and at the time my oldest was struggling with anxiety and social phobias, and putting them in a potentially disappointing situation like that was just asking for a meltdown. I have long held the philosophy, “Ask for what you need,” and find that some people are quite often willing to make accommodations to help us if I give them a simple explanation of my family’s situation. I do not EXPECT people to accommodate us, I only do this if I think it will not be a burden, but figure it can’t hurt to ask. After a LOT of careful thinking I emailed the following reply:

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