To the Mean Stranger Who Judged My Parenting Abilities, Thank You


We were exhausted — tired and emotionally raw.

Our little boy was finally stable and home from the hospital. He was in so much pain; I was actually surprised and relieved he’d finally fallen asleep. He was almost 2 years old and had given us quite the scare.

His feet seemed to stop working, and he vomited relentlessly until it became red and streaked with blood. He had no fever and every test had yielded normal results. His discharge papers read, “Undiagnosed. Suspected underlying neurological condition.”

We were given referrals to neurology as well as some prescriptions and sent home. It was a beautiful summer day and our little boy slept in the carrier as we walked to the pharmacy to fill his prescriptions. Standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, I became so lost in thought pondering what could be wrong with my precious boy that I almost didn’t hear her.

My husband’s abrupt “Excuse me!?” snapped me out of it. I looked up to see the whole street corner staring at us. I felt immediate confusion by the appalled look on the woman’s face. What happened? Did we do something wrong? I could think of nothing.

We were just standing there waiting for the light. She had aggressive body language, matched only by the angry look on my husband’s face. “I said he’s old enough to walk,” she said gesturing to my child sleeping soundly against my husband’s chest. I stood looking at her, my mouth literally gaping. Did she really just say that?

People were staring at us, waiting to hear what we had to say. I instantly became self-conscience. I wondered if everyone felt this way? I spent the last week in a nightmare and had just been told my sweet child probably has a mysterious neurological disorder. Now I felt like the whole world was judging me for it.

We just stood there silent. It was as if we both decided simultaneously she was not worth engaging. My husband’s jaw was tight, and I could tell he was upset, but he turned his head and ignored her. But apparently our child in a carrier was too much for the woman to take. She reached out and tapped my husband on the shoulder forcing him to acknowledge her. “You are not doing him any favors treating him like that,” she snapped. “He should be walking!”

I was truly caught off guard. I was humiliated as I looked around at all the people starting at us. Was she really questioning us as parents!? Especially after all we’d been through? Could this one act of carrying our sick son be enough to announce to the whole world we were not doing right by him?

I felt so judged, isolated and misunderstood. It made me feel all alone and inadequate. I wanted to do more for him, but how could I? I was giving him everything I could.

Standing on this corner looking at this woman, I tried to think of something clever to say to make her understand. But, in my emotionally exhausted state, the only thing that came was stunned silence. My husband, however, was not as lost for words. He said to her softly, yet firmly, “Not that it’s any of your business, but he has some neurological issues and was just released from the hospital earlier today. So no, he can’t walk right now.”

There was an audible gasp amongst the audience. No one expected this response, and all eyes turned to the woman to hear what she would say next.

She was stunned. Her indignant self-righteousness was fading but not gone. She looked at my husband, still holding her aggressive posture and said flippantly, “Well, I didn’t know that.”

This response surprised me. It was as if her lack of knowledge made her actions justifiable. “No, you didn’t,” my husband retorted. “And you may want to consider that fact the next time you feel the urge to walk up to parents and publicly judge and insult them. We are doing everything possible for our sick child. The only one not doing him any favors is you.”

And with that she turned around and ran away.

This short interaction has had a lasting impression on me. And not just because of her audacity but because I can relate to what she was thinking. While I’ve never walked up to a mom and criticized her, I have thought things to myself not too dissimilar, and it made me feel awful. Here I was in an extraordinary situation wishing others would understand and I was guilty of thinking the same things.

My husband’s words hit me like a hammer. I’d silently judged without stopping to think that maybe I didn’t have all the information. The thought that I could have dismissed a mother in desperate need of support, a mother like myself, deeply bothered me.

It was not too long after, I witnessed a scene in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. A woman was standing there watching her son melt down, doing nothing to control the situation. He was maybe 4 and was sitting on the floor screaming at the top of his lungs with his hands over his ears rocking back and fourth. As she stood there watching, a man walked by and scoffed at her. He was trying to maneuver his cart around the screaming child. He said to her, “Lady, control your kid. People are trying to shop.”A week ago I would probably be thinking something like, “Why isn’t she removing him from the store?” But just coming off my public judgment on the street corner, I decided to change my approach of silent disapproval. I too had something to say to her. So I walked up to her.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “This was my whole day yesterday. Gotta love life with toddlers.” The woman said nothing. “Honestly,” I continued, “It happens to all of us. Don’t worry about it.” I gestured to the man who was now further down the aisle.

The woman broke into tears. She explained that her son was recently diagnosed with autism and he would melt down for unknown reasons. Right now, in the cereal aisle, she had no idea what triggered the meltdown or what to do about it. She did know that touching him or attempting to move him would only upset him more.

This woman was in a difficult situation and doing everything she could. Sadly she was only met with judgment. As I reached for my box of Cheerios, I told her to hang in there. I reassured her she was doing a good job and was a good mother. To my surprise she grabbed me, hugged me and said, “I really needed to hear that today.”

Her words hit my heart and echoed what I’ve felt so many times before.

Over the years I continue to think back to those two events, and they have been forever burned into my soul. Because of these two random encounters I feel compelled to offer words of encouragement to parents who I catch publicly struggling. I force myself to smile approvingly at parents who seem to be doing the odd and unconventional, and I am constantly surprised. I’ve met a wide range of unexpected and extraordinary circumstances.

The 8-year-old girl who was saying mean things at her mom in the kitchen store was angry that her dad had just been deployed to war.

The mom who was indulging her son with candy every time he fussed was fighting cancer and had no energy for a battle of wills.

The dad who was on his phone at the park while his son begged to be pushed on the swing had just lost his mother.

In years past, I might have silently disapproved of these interactions. But because of one mean stranger I was able to offer words of encouragement, load a tired cancer patient’s car for her and push a grieving man’s son on the swing.

The more extraordinary situations I uncover, the more I realize at one time or another we all fight something extraordinary. We all fight things that make us feel alone and desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

When these things happen, we do what we must to survive. Sometimes that means our parenting choices look strange. These are the times when the world feels harsh, but we need it to be kind. I truly believe if anyone should have compassion for parents, it’s other parents. What we really need is support, not judgment.

So, to the random lady on street, I can’t thank you enough for making me realize this. You hurt me and embarrassed me. But, you made me realize I was guilty of forgetting that my battle is not an isolated one. You reminded me we all struggle and none of us have the whole picture. You changed how I see others and how I approach them. You connected me to my community and gave me compassion for the unconventional.

But mostly, you opened my eyes and showed me something extraordinary.

A version of this post originally appeared on Raising Dystonia.



Woman With Dystonia Writes Perfect Response to Disrespectful Restaurant Employee


Brittany Adler could have been angry when she was seemingly ignored at a restaurant in Miami, Fla. She could have caused a scene when an employee behind the register gave her a funny look and walked away from the counter instead of making an effort to understand her while she was placing her order. She could have flipped out because that same employee had just taken her friend’s order but seemed disinterested in serving a person with a disability or finding someone who would. But instead, Adler remained calm, went somewhere else to eat and wrote a polite but powerfully-worded letter to the employee. Kindness and education kills negativity, she thinks.

Adler, 24, has dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes her muscles to involuntarily contract, affecting her speech. She told The Mighty in an email that she’d like to keep the restaurant’s name out of the media because she doesn’t see a benefit from throwing its employees under the bus. What she wants in the media is her response to the incident — because she thinks it can teach a lot of people an important lesson.

Clarification: Adler wrote this note at Hurricane Grill & Wings before returning to the restaurant where the incident first occurred. Adler has assured The Mighty that the staff at Hurricane Grill & Wings did not ignore her.


Her letter reads:

Hi, my name is Brittany Adler. I am 24 years old. I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Exercise Science and Heath Science. I plan on getting my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. I also happen to have Dystonia, a condition that affects my muscle tone and speech. Just because I have this disability doesn’t mean I should be disrespected. It is a good thing that I am a strong individual otherwise, I would have been devastated. With that being said, everyone, including people with disabilities, should be respected equally… even though it may be harder to understand them. You should never give up on people. Everyone has something to say! Sincerely, Brittany

Adler brought the note back to the original restaurant and watched as its employees took turns reading it. They were all apologetic, Adler said, and one manager tearfully approached her to talk about his own daughter who has a disability.

Carly Greenberg, who was with Adler when the first incident occurred, told The Mighty she’s always revered her friend’s patience.

“Brittany believes that if everyone is as patient with her as she is with them, they will understand her,” Greenberg said.

“This is not disability awareness but human awareness,” Adler told The Mighty. “Just like no two fingerprints are the same, no two individuals are the same. Each one of us is special and unique. We each have something to offer one another. If all of us were the same, the world would be a boring place.”

Adler isn’t letting the incident weigh her down. She’s used to people staring at her and asking about her condition. She’d rather answer questions than let people make their own judgments. Today, she’s busy preparing to attend D’Youville College in Buffalo, N.Y., this June to study physical therapy.

“Dream big. Never give up,” she told The Mighty. “Don’t judge. Accept all people. Be the best you can be. Inspire.”

Check out Adler’s Facebook page, “Brittany’s Message.”


This Was the Perfect Way to Say Goodbye to High School


With one month until graduation, 20-year-old Dane Porter made his drumming debut. And it was percussion perfection.

The senior, who has Down syndrome, was invited to play with the Waxahachie High School band at a pep rally in April for a Special Olympics meet. Watch that performance below to witness some serious joy.

“Dane has taught me a lot over the past two decades,” Porter’s friend wrote on YouTube, “but one of the biggest things is that if you have someone in your life that isn’t capable of performing at the same level as the experts, we should still find ways for them to participate and be involved in the things they love.”

h/t CBS


A 5-Year-Old Made Me Cry


Today I had a big one – one of those ugly cries where what happened is worth crying about, but it’s almost like you’ve bottled up months’ worth, and this one thing sets ‘er all off.

Today a 5-year-old made me cry. Keep in mind Pip, my younger daughter, had her eye patch on, and I was uber sensitive after a discouraging eye doc appointment. But still, a 5-year-old made me cry.

The little girl, as annoying and taunting as her words were, was just being a little girl. But the little scene it created at daycare definitely got my mind a thinking to what may happen in years to come – what may happen to Pip when I’m not there – what may happen when Noal, her big brother, isn’t around to step in. It all made me sad. Really sad.

But I’m so thankful for Noal in his simple yet touching approach. Oh, what I am learning from these hooligans.

Whenever I pick Noal up after 4:30ish there is a real mix-match of kiddos left over in one room waiting for their parents who work late.

I always try and peek my head in to “spy” on Noal. He is usually leading the pack in some form or another, even if the kids are 4 or 5 years old. Today he was at the back of the room telling one little boy who was trying to help him with a puzzle that the piece he had was “too big, that’s too big” – his new favorite saying to everything that doesn’t seem to work or that he doesn’t want. “You want eggs for dinner, Noal?” “No mum, that’s too big.” “OK, buddy…”

Normally he sees me right away and runs over screaming, “Mumma!” and proudly shows off his “Pippy.” Today, however, this 5-year-old little girl met us at the door, aggressively grabbed at Pip’s eye patch & said, “That baby is broken. Look at her, she’s broken,” then pointed at Pip’s eye, turned to her little friend and said, “Gross, gross baby.”

She wouldn’t stop saying it, and before I could calmly explain or internalize “broken” or “gross” too much, my little tank of a man came running over, stepped in front of this little girl, put both hands on Pip’s cheeks, kissed her & proudly said, “She’s OK, she’s my sista” and then put her little head into his chest and started patting her back.

Hello, tears, how are you? So glad you kept ‘er in till we hit the van. Ice cream for our hero, Noal, for dinner? I think so…

This post originally appeared on Happy Soul Project. 


39 Seconds of Sweetness Between a Girl With Autism and Her Friend


Madeline Long is a 10 year old girl on the autism spectrum. She has become a minor star among people who watch her weekly “Happy Monday” videos, as these fans have been taken in by the sweet charisma that she has for life. Maddie greets people at the start of the week with the phrase, “Happy Monday.” I’m sure most of you are wondering, And what is so great about the start of the week? The answer is pretty simple. When you are someone who craves a schedule as much as Maddie does, you are confused by the lack of structure that a weekend brings and love nothing more than going back to the regimented life that school provides.

How would I describe Maddie? She’s manic in her energy levels. Her attention span is very limited. Because of these things her interests in life are active, be it basketball, swimming or pretend play. Those of you that think most kids on the spectrum are like zombies sitting in front of the TV — well spend a day with Maddie and that notion of yours will disappear. Here’s another thing that might surprise you. She’s very much a people person, as long as they are adult people who facilitate helping her do the things she wants to do. She rarely connects with peers because despite her sharing the same chronological age, her developmental age is more like a 4-year-old, so her play reflects that.

I give you this background about Maddie so you can understand how rare it is for her to display the calm nature she offers up in the video below. I have seen Maddie be this way very few times, and it’s always been when she is around another person with a developmental delay that is more global in nature than her own. She has no “Rain Man” savant-like gifts, but Maddie does have an instinct to go inside herself and be the calm vessel that the person she is with needs at that point. As much as I would like to have someone to help me beat the Vegas house at blackjack, I wouldn’t trade it for the sensitive trait my girl has in dealing with people with bigger challenges than she even faces.

The other person in this video is 11-year-old Matthew. Besides being on the spectrum, Matthew was born with tuberous sclerosis. The very non-medical description is that he has non-malignant tumors that can pop up all over. When he was in-utero he had one of these tumors in his heart. He has battled way more than what you and I have had to do to survive in life. Don’t be fooled by his sweet smile, this little guy is 100 percent American tough guy.  Matthew would have the right to call Chuck Norris a wuss.

Maddie and Matthew met through Special Olympics basketball. On the court Maddie is like a lot of NBA players, as her focus wavers when she is on defense, but she had a successful season as she got through the noise and distractions that in the past often had her emotionally unable to stay on the hardwood. Basketball was newer to Matthew and he struggled most of the year to even take his hands off his ears. The whole thing often just seemed too much for him, but that is one of many of the great parts about the Special Olympics. No judgments. I’m not a big fan of cliches, but I do truly believe that so much of life is just showing up and my man Matthew did, despite how tough it often was for him.

At the end of the season, Matthew’s wonderful parents invited the families of the teams to a celebration party at their house. When you have a child on the spectrum you don’t get invited to too many parties and you aren’t very likely to attend anyway, as the atmosphere isn’t generally conducive for the challenges that are always at hand. This was a different type of party, as the vibe was perfect for all the kids. One player was absent, though — Matthew. He was holed up in his room the whole time. At this point I should mention that the one teammate that I had noticed during practice and games who Matthew would take his hands off his ears for was Maddie. He had even hugged her a couple of times. Knowing this I mentioned to Maddie that we should go into Matthew’s room and see if we could get him to join the rest of us at the party. The video below is what happened when we did this.

This post originally appeared on It’s An Autism Thing.


Listen to This Triathlete Explain What the R-Word Means to Him


We wrote about Sean Bogart, a triathlete with Down syndrome, a few weeks ago. Bogart, 28, is competing in the Special Olympics in New Jersey this June. He’s also the star of his aunt and uncle’s upcoming documentary, “Sean So Far.” 

In the newly released excerpt below, Bogart talks about self-respect, using the “R” word and what it means to be true to yourself. As someone who has faced a stigma surrounding disability his whole life, his words are especially powerful.


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