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.

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"THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!"

Letters to Mr. Goss

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(How hundreds of students reached out in gratitude to a beloved former teacher in the days before his death.)   Every year around Valentine’s Day, and in the spirit of Random Acts of Kindness,  I try to find a way to reach out and do something kind and unexpected for someone. Quite often it is to say “thank you” to someone from my past; someone who had a positive influence on my life and might not even know it. Several years ago I had been thinking a lot about my high school English teacher, Raymond Goss. I have always enjoyed writing, but rediscovered a passion for it when my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder. I started blogging to find an outlet for my emotions, and somehow that ended up helping other people who read my words. I recalled being in Mr. Goss’s class and how he really enjoyed & encouraged my writing. One time he actually got quite giddy about a unique paper I wrote, jumping up and down in his chair, exclaiming, “YES!!! YES! THIS is what I wanted!!!” I wondered what he would think if he read any of my new work. I wanted to tell him that he made a difference in my life and that I thought of him every time I wrote.

During that time old high school friends had begun to reconnect on Facebook, and Mr. Goss often came up in conversation as we reminisced. He was one of those amazing teachers that got students excited about learning and about life. They appreciated his energy and passion, his unique view of the world, and the fact that he could teach with equal levels of earnestness the symbolism of Dr. Seuss or Dante’s Inferno. Despite his occasionally crusty exterior he was described as, “My favorite teacher”, “The best thing to happen to English”, “My inspiration for becoming a writer/teacher”, and “The only person I felt I could talk to”. One student wrote, “He was just one of the coolest teachers I think I’ve ever known. Even when it wasn’t about English or Literature, he was teaching about so many things.” Another said, “We LOVED Mr. Goss!! Who else could discuss how important it is to have your glass of milk so cold it almost hurts? Or read Dr. Seuss’ ‘Are You My Mother?’ to you and put it on your senior English exam?”

I had heard whispers that Mr. Goss was battling an aggressive form of cancer, but I was not sure if that sad news was supposed to be public knowledge. It increased the urgency of my desire to contact him, but I did not wish to invade his privacy. I waited many months for the opportunity to reach out to him, all the while a feeling of desperation growing inside me. I wondered if he knew how many lives he had touched, or how many students viewed him as a crucial positive influence on their education. I was sure that those students who sang his praises on the internet would be devastated to learn that they could no longer tell the man himself. I decided that it would be an utter tragedy for Mr. Goss to die without the possibility of knowing how many students spoke so highly of him; without knowing that he had made such a difference.

Continue reading

Silence is Not Always Golden

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I am what you would call wide open.  If I am in pain I don’t ignore it, I EMBRACE the pain… and talk about the pain to anyone who will listen.  I think that it is important to explore our feelings in order to grow and learn from our life experiences, painful or not.  I also hope that by sharing my experiences they may be a help to others.  I HATE those taboo subjects that no one is supposed to bring up.  We have WAY too many of those in my family and I find it exceedingly dysfunctional.  I think that we give those painful & awkward things even greater power over us by keeping them hidden.  Yes, I know that everyone processes emotions differently, I get that. I just have a hard time when someone brings up a touchy subject and is greeted with an uncomfortable SILENCE. *cricket*cricket*

I have encountered a LOT of this lately when I bring up the subject of my youngest son’s Autism Diagnosis.  This has been a life changing event and it has greatly impacted the life of my family– in ways both good and bad, I’ll be honest.  So I tell people.  I am NOT ashamed.  I want them to know about our life so that I can help raise awareness and increase sensitivity.  I want them to know WHY I may not attend certain social functions or keep cancelling plans.  I want them to know WHY my son (or other children with special needs) acts the way he does so people don’t feel the need to secretly gawk.  I want them to know that when they see a child having a meltdown in a grocery store it would be more useful for them to offer to hold open a door, not whisper about “out of control brats & poor parenting”.  I want to help reduce prejudice & fight a lot of misinformation out there.  And also I just flat out like to talk… and this journey has give me a LOT to talk about!

So Autism is obviously one of my major topics of conversation.  (By the way, it is a REAL mood killer at parties!)  When I first joined Facebook waaaay back when I reconnected with a LOT of people from my High School. In the process of “catching up” I told many of them about our journey.  I said something to the effect of, “I am currently staying at home with my 2 boys ages 2.5 and 4 (only 17 months apart!!), one of whom has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  It has changed our lives… and also opened some new doors for me.  I am becoming active in disability advocacy and special needs ministry.  I facilitate a support group for parents at my church (as a a layperson, but it is good to get to use my seminary training somehow!) and it has been an amazing experience.  I am also helping the church start a special needs ministry for the kids and I hope to work in a related area once the kids are older.

So I put myself out there, took the time to tell people what is going on with me, and I also took the time to ask about what is going on with them, too!  And you know what I got all too often?  SILENCE.  Continue reading