Don’t Stare

We were in the process of checking out when I discovered that even though all the groceries had fit in the cart alongside Brian, they didn’t seem to fit anymore once they were bagged.

I told Brian I needed him to come out and he immediately started whining.  I grabbed him under his arms and pulled his bulking 70 pound long body up and over the cart, as he remained as limp as possible.  His legs gave out as soon as his feet touched the floor and he melted down to the floor, with me completely unable to halt it.  He’s heavy and he’s even heavier when he is upset.

He shrieked at this level that pierces your ears as he laid on his back on the dirty floor in the middle of the supermarket.  I crouched down next to him, whispering to him that I needed him to have a “safe body, quiet voice”.  I reached out and squeezed his arms and his legs.  His voice slowly came down a few decibels and after another minute or two he stood up, wiping his tears and sucking his thumb.  I held his hand while I fumbled through my wallet to try to pull out my debit card to finish the transaction.

And then I saw the line of people behind us.  Especially the lady in the front.  Actually, I think I felt her stare before I saw her.  They all stood there and they stared with their mouths hanging open unattractively.  The lady in the front was even shaking her head slightly, you know in disbelief in how my son was acting. On the other hand, the cashier wouldn’t even make eye contact and I think had lost his ability to speak to me.

Listen, this isn’t fun for me.  And it sure as hell, isn’t fun for my child.  He does not choose to behave like this.  He is not acting like that to manipulate me.  He is not giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time.  He is not being a brat.

Every day I struggle with a balance of choosing to do errands alone so I don’t have to worry about a situation like this or to bring Brian with me to continue to hope to acclimate him to the busy world we all live in and learn some new social and life skills.  A lot of days, I don’t even have the pleasure of debating this with myself as my husband works late and I’m working while Brian is in school.  So to the store we go, because we do need to eat.

One thing I don’t want to debate with myself and worry about is how people are going to treat us.

I get that it’s kind of odd to see an older child having what looks like to you, a toddler tantrum.  But I also would think that by realizing he’s a big kid, you would be more open to realizing that he probably has a disability, a reason to why he is melting down.  And you would cut him a little slack.

I’d like to challenge those who don’t have a child with special needs to imagine what it would be like to go into a supermarket if you had special needs.  There are lights that flicker, an overwhelming abundance of smells, dozens of different sounds, people brushing by you, and a loss of routine as the trip is never really the same- if you have sensory processing disorder all of that stimuli is exaggerated and attacking your senses.  You can’t talk, so you can’t tell your Mom that you really would like some more of that cinnamon toast she bought you a couple weeks ago.  You can’t talk so you can’t tell her that you really just need to get home to use the bathroom.  You can’t talk so you can’t tell her that you have a headache.  You have low muscle tone so walking around a large area is physically draining.  You CAN tell when people are staring at you- noticing your flaps or the toddler-like noises you are making.  You only feel safe in such an environment when you have clear boundaries around you, so sometimes you ride in the cart even though you are clearly too large for the cart.  You notice those stares too.  Anywhere else in the world would be better than here.  And you, too, try not have a meltdown.

In my final words, if you are in the store and you see a child having a meltdown and a parent doing their best to stay calm and help their child through this moment, realize that you don’t know their full story.  Don’t stare.  Don’t alienate them anymore, believe me they already feel very alienated.  If you are feeling like a truly exemplary human being, a “You’re doing a great job Mom” or an “Is there anything I can do to help?”, would be so appreciated and probably move that mother to tears.  But if you’re not up for that social interaction (because, we get that, we’re a household full of social quirks), simply don’t stare with your mouth hanging open at us.  That’s all I’m asking.  Thank you.


Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.