To the Stranger Who Gave Me 'the Look' When My Son Had a Public Meltdown


I got a look today from a woman as we were leaving the grocery store, but it wasn’t the usual look. It was a pinched smile, raised brow and sympathetic gaze of someone who, if nothing else, “got” that my boy was miserable.

I was alternating hips so his headphone-wearing self wouldn’t give me a black eye, walking full blast toward the parking lot.

And she got it.

She got that he wasn’t wailing and screaming at the top of his lungs through the aisles because he thought he could manipulate me. He wasn’t thrashing because he thought he could win. He wasn’t crying and snotting and choking because he needed a stronger momma or a Bible-thumping on his ass.

He was in a full-on meltdown and long, long past rationalizing a way out of his torment.

I didn’t know her. I don’t know that I would recognize her again if I saw her. I have only a vague memory of light hair pulled back tightly from her face. Or maybe it was brown and just highlighted. I don’t know.

But I saw her.

And I was grateful.

There are lots and lots and lots of blogs and articles online complaining about the rudeness of other people when autism affects their day unexpectedly. I’ve had a few of those incidents myself but only a few.

The rest can usually be categorized as either blank-stared shock or intentional, awkward avoidance. A small percentage — usually someone of the more, ahem, grandmotherly persona, occasionally attempt to cajole him into distraction, which doesn’t work and in fact usually makes the situation worse, but is actually very thoughtful.

The rarest of the rare though, the golden response, the creme de la creme of acknowledgment… is sympathy.

Not sympathy for my child with autism, but sympathy for he’s-upset-and-his-momma-is-sad-that-he’s-upset.

It might come from a place of experience or empathy or just flat out kindness. I don’t know. And I don’t know because it is so rare.

It’s a lonely feeling, having a child you love fall apart in front of you when you know the only thing you can do to make it better is push through or leave. It’s isolating. I can handle it like a badass, don’t get me wrong. I can carry that 45-pound, writhing 5-year-old superhero under my arm like a football all the way through a super Wal-Mart and out through the parking lot like I carry the mail. I can stay calm and keep my head up, my keys ready, his shoes on and still make eye contact with anyone in my way. There’s no defensive lineman that can block a Spectrum Mom.

I can usually even find my car in the lot the first row I walk down, too. This is part of my natural awesomeness — don’t be intimidated.

But no matter how well I can manage grocery shopping during a nuclear meltdown, I still feel the social isolation of it.

Deeply.

So, Ms. Eye Contact, I just wanna say thank you. Thank you for holding my gaze long enough for me to smile back. Thank you for breaking me out of the zone and spending two seconds of your day to acknowledge me.

Thanks for seeing us.

Love,

Spectrum Mom

young boy wearing pajamas

This post originally appeared on Letters From a Spectrum Mom.

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