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The Moment of Kindness I Won't Forget When My Son Melted Down in a Mall

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Editor's Note

Not everyone in sensory overload or in other moments of distress would appreciate being approached by a stranger — please make sure to ask before approaching someone you don’t know. (If you’re looking for ways to help, this Mighty piece includes autistic adults’ perspectives.) However, in the case below, a moment of kindness came out of a stranger’s actions.

Navigating the ups and downs of autism with my son has brought its fair share of joy and sorrow. However, I have personally experienced so much kindness from strangers and friends that I am constantly inspired and driven to recognize the positives and use that to fuel our journey forward.

There is one particular episode burnt in my memory for almost five years. We had just received an autism diagnosis two months prior. At this time, I was a very clueless mom trying my best to simply stay afloat. I had never interacted with any autistic before and had missed all the signs with my son. So it was a true learning experience.

On that day, we went to the shopping mall. It was about a week before Christmas. I should have known better, but everything was new to me. I was learning slowly but still oblivious about most of what autism meant.

The meltdown happened quickly and intensely. In retrospect, I should have known the noise and lights and people would have been overwhelming. But I only saw the signs when it was too late. We’re in the middle of the shopping mall, sitting on the floor and I was bear-hugging my son, juggling shopping bags, rocking back and forth trying to calm him and whispering in his ears, singing lullabies in the hope of bringing some sense of peace. And in the back of my head, I was feeling alone and ashamed, thinking a better mom would know what to do.

The meltdown seemed to last forever. I felt the disapproving scowls and heard the silent condemnation from the “perfect” parents. And out of the corner of my eye, I felt a pair of eyes staring a little longer than the others. Then I realized he was walking towards us. I wanted to disappear. A million thoughts popped into my head. I anticipated the worst… that I was about to be publicly shamed for something I didn’t understand and couldn’t control. I felt the tears on the verge of pouring out.

The man stepped towards us and knelt in front of my son. He didn’t say a word to me but instead focused on my son and said, “You’re having a tough time right now, aren’t you? It’s a lot of noise and stuff going on. I don’t like it much either.” I felt the tenseness in my son’s body slowly dissipate, and he looked up at the stranger and nodded at him. At that moment, the man pulled a toy truck from behind him and said, “Would this help a little?” While his emotions were still very heightened, the diversion was enough to calm him so we could leave the shopping mall and get back to our car.

This remains burnt in my memory. The kindness shown by a complete stranger was a blessing that helped us and gave us strength to move forward, not only in that moment but as we continue our journey.

Getty image by danielvfung.

Originally published: October 19, 2018
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