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When a Waitress Said Our Son With Autism Shouldn’t Be Using a Tablet

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We just came back from our family vacation. While we were very excited to go on vacation, I knew it would be a little difficult with our monkey. As special needs parents know, we have to pick and choose our battles.

For example, when we went a restaurant, we allowed my monkey use a tablet. We ended up getting a lot of stares. Other families weren’t very supportive of our son using a tablet during what is supposed to be family time. I understand. I used to be that mom. The mom who constantly compared other kids to mine. When I saw someone throw a tantrum, I would think, “My daughter would never be allowed to pull a stunt like that”  or “I would never let my daughter tell me what to do.”

We did have a small dilemma in one of the restaurants when the waitress tried getting my monkey’s attention. When she realized he wasn’t going to look up from his tablet, she told us we shouldn’t be letting him use the tablet.  After all, she said, this is family time. I explained to her that my son has autism, and this is the only way we’ll be able to have a nice dinner. The tablet will let us all eat in peace. This way, my husband, daughter and I can have actual conversations. If it weren’t for this tablet, we would be apologizing to the family behind us because our monkey wants to sit with them. Or we would be looking for his shoes under the table because he threw them. Or we would be running down the hall after him, hoping he won’t bump into someone with a tray stacked with plates.

My son doesn’t have a sign that he carries so everyone will know he has autism. Because of that, many people assume he is a spoiled toddler who cries when he doesn’t get his way. People don’t see his struggles. People can’t see how frustrated he gets because he can’t communicate with us.

While we were at SeaWorld watching one of the shows, my monkey was everywhere. He just couldn’t sit still. My husband tried so hard to keep him from disturbing the people around us. We tried so hard to get him to watch the animals, but it didn’t work. The show was only 20 minutes in, but it felt like hours. After it ended, an older man came up to my husband, patted him on the back and said, “Great job, dad!” Those words of encouragement were much needed.

Having my monkey has taught me to be more understanding, more patient and not to be quick to judge. We need to remember that everyone is probably going through something even if we can’t see it. So the next time you see a mom or dad struggling with their kids, try taking a different approach. Try giving them a smile. Or if you’re feeling brave, offer to help.  Because you never know when something as small as a pat on the back is exactly what they need.

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Originally published: July 2, 2015
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