Why We’ll Never Stop Going Out in Public


I frequently see posts and articles about public outing nightmares with children with autism. I relate to almost every single one of them.

I’ve noticed that most of them aren’t about a meltdown at Disney World; it’s almost always the grocery store or some other mundane outing. An outing you can’t avoid. We all have to buy groceries. We all have to drop our children off at school. We all have to go to medical appointments. The list goes on and on. Lining up childcare every time we have to do one of these things just isn’t realistic and can get expensive. Not only that, but some of our children have such severe separation anxiety that leaving them with someone is equally as traumatic as an outing.

Anytime we go into a store, our son gets highly anxious about the loudspeaker and the beeping at the registers — so much so that he usually throws things when it’s time to check out or covers his ears and cries when they use the loudspeaker. He also gets upset if there’s another child crying (even if that child is three aisles over), and it can send him into a tailspin from which we cannot always recover.

People outside our world might wonder why we ever go out with our children if it isn’t completely necessary. Why do we subject ourselves to the stares and comments that cut so deep? Why don’t we, for instance, leave our son at home with one parent and the other parent can take out the other two? Why don’t I always do my grocery shopping while all three children are at preschool? Why do we attempt the park when we know the end result will probably be dragging a kicking and screaming child to the car?

I know our son would be perfectly content to sit in the living room and play with all of his favorite toys over and over again. His anxiety would be next to nothing, and his overall mood would improve. When we were home sick last week with few outings and next to no transitions, our days were nearly meltdown-free. So why don’t we homeschool, get a sitter for all our necessary outings and stop all our therapies?

First of all, staying shut away is not an option in the real world. If we expect our children to mature and learn coping mechanisms, they need to practice. If we expect them to go to the grocery store and buy food for themselves someday, we cannot avoid noisy places all together. We have to work through the experience, even if it does appear to be disastrous to onlookers. Sometimes our outings might look like disasters but were actually ten times better than the last one, and we bask in the joy of that progress.

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Our children (both our neurotypical children and our son on the spectrum) deserve to have fun too. Don’t get me wrong, we plan our outings carefully and generally try to work them so we don’t have much waiting. We try to make it as predictable as possible. But even so, we cannot plan for every circumstance, and if we have to wait a little longer than planned or go a different direction, you might have to witness a meltdown.

But it’s worth it. It’s worth it, to me, to risk him crying and screaming because we’re leaving the zoo after we’ve already walked through it twice, if the benefit means watching him jump up and down with excitement at experiencing a new animal. It’s worth it, to me, to get out of our house and see him have a better store outing than the last time or to see him try a new thing with his siblings by his side and enjoy it.

So there you have it. We cannot live in fear of the next meltdown; our children would never experience the world. We cannot hide our children to make the world feel more comfortable; no one will ever learn about or accept their differences. We cannot stop going out anymore than we can stop living. And we will never stop.

This post originally appeared on From the Bowels of Motherhood.

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