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When I Heard a Woman's Rude Comment to Another Special Needs Mom

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It’s Saturday, and despite the noise and the crowds, I am going to have to tackle Walmart. We desperately need food, and now that I work all week, I have become a weekend shopper just like everyone else. I try to sneak out of the house and I am just rounding my SUV when the garage door quickly opens. My 5-year-old runs out with her purse slung across her body and says, “I come wit you, Mom!” It’s not a question — it’s more of a statement. I know I am not going to get out of taking her with me.

My daughter, Gabby, has autism, sensory processing disorder, anxiety and panic disorder. A trip to Walmart is extremely hard for her to handle, hence my trying to sneak out. I strap her in, and we are on our way. She is watching “Tangled” on the car television. I lower the volume and say, “It’s going to be really loud and busy today at the store. You are going to have to hang in there with me today, OK, baby?” She does not respond, but I look back in the rearview mirror and see her nodding her sweet head.

We pull in and find a handicapped spot available — a rarity on a Saturday. I excitedly pull my girl out of the car and make sure I have a good grasp on her arm even before her little feet hit the pavement. We make our way through the crowded parking lot and finally get into the store. I was just wiping down the basket when my daughter starts to do a little dance with her feet, grabs her shorts and says a bit to loudly, “I gotta go potty, Mom! Right now!” I abandon our cart and hurry her to the ladies’ restroom.

I come to a stop when I see a lady standing in the doorway trying to see when the restroom is clear. She backs away from the door with a sigh. I look over her head to see an extremely tall, large teenager. He has headphones on and is doing a little dance on his big feet himself. I said to her, “If you guys need to go, please do. We need to use the restroom, too, and I have no problem with you guys using the handicapped bathroom.” She gives me a relieved smile and says, “I always try to clear the bathroom out before bringing him in, but today we just can’t catch a break.” I squeezed her arm and respond, “We’re in the same boat. It’s just easier because she is a girl, and it won’t look strange when I am dragging her to the bathroom when she is 17.” She looks down at my daughter and says, “Autism?” I tell her, “Yes, among other things. You guys come on in. We are on the same team.”

She grabs her son’s hand and drags him to the handicap stall. I can hear her explaining the process to her son, probably something she has done a million times. We are finishing up and washing our hands when a woman bursts into the bathroom. She immediately stops when she sees the large guy washing his hands and looks at our group and gives us the stank-eye. She starts to walk forward but then stops and spins back around. She looks at us and says, “That’s ridiculous. He is old enough to use the men’s restroom.” The other mother looks immediately defeated. I turn to the stranger and, facing her straight on, I say, “Our babies are going to use the restroom with us for the rest of our lives. Do you really think if there was another option that we would be using this restroom? If by any chance there was a family restroom, I can guarantee she would have used it. Instead of just walking through, you had to give us your two cents and make her feel bad.” The lady immediately noticed the young man wearing a Sponge Bob T-shirt and headphones, and she seemed to fully comprehend the reason he is in the ladies bathroom.

I have to give it to her, though. Instead of just going about her business, she turns to the boy’s mother and, offering an apology, says, “I didn’t know.”

Just like that, we are done and walking back toward the baskets. We are each grabbing our carts and our children when she smiles brightly at me and we hug. She pulls back and says, “Thanks for that. I have stopped defending us lately, and it was nice to have someone else be on our team for once.” We chatted for a few minutes and then took our children in opposite directions.

parents walking hand-in-hand with daughterBeing a parent to a child with special needs was never part of my life plan. I had big dreams for my little girl, and although those dreams are different now, they are not less. It can be difficult to have a child with special needs. You are fighting day-in and day-out to cater to the needs of a child who is not mentally or physically well. And sometimes, when you are just trying to get a few normal things done, a trip to the bathroom makes you a target. You then have to be an advocate for your child when all you really wanted to do was just buy some groceries and get back home.

Autism is an invisible disability. You cannot look at my child and immediately know she has special needs, which is sometimes a blessing and a curse. If my child was in a wheelchair or had the angelic face of a child with Down syndrome, strangers would immediately be clued into the fact that she requires special care and consideration. So instead of a quick trip to the store that afternoon, we ended up meeting another family on our team. When I say “team,” I mean someone who is fighting battles and advocating as hard as I am. A family striving to live life as well as possible when the deck is stacked against them. That’s our team. Though it’s a team I never sought to join, I have embraced it. I’ve met some of the most inspiring and inspirational people of my life. I have met people who humble me on a daily basis and people who are always willing to jump in and lend a hand or pick me up when I fall.

It’s not where I thought I wanted to be, but it’s amazing to be part of this team.

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Originally published: April 10, 2015
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