There are a lot of first times in our children’s lives.
There are good first times and bad first times. This is life.
And then there is the first time another person is mean to your son because he is autistic. It finally happened.
I’ve been waiting actually. I knew it was coming. Cooper is so loud. He runs. If he gets super stressed he will push people. It’s partly sensory seeking. Partly out of not knowing what to do.
He has very, very little self awareness. And zero understanding of social norms.
But nevertheless, I had my first run in with a stranger about Cooper’s behavior. And I cried on the inside…like a winner.
We were at the zoo as a family. This was a big step for me. I tend to not bring Cooper places like this. Partly for selfish reasons I guess and partly because it ends up being very stressful for him.
He did well for the first couple of hours. We brought the wagon, his LeapPad and more drinks/snacks then one could humanly imagine. Cooper is driven by technology and food.
After a couple of hours he started to really struggle. He gets really deregulated. He didn’t want to walk. Or ride in the wagon. Or be carried. He wanted to run and dart and turn into a limp noodle and roll around on the ground. I think we covered 1 block in an hour.
Jamie and I are smart enough to know when he is done. We know the signs…but unfortunately we were a mile away from the exit. We started to make our way to the exit. Cooper progressively got more frustrated. He started throwing stuff from the wagon, screaming, hitting Sawyer. It’s a tough situation.
As we neared the exit we saw the underwater exhibit. You can touch starfish and sharks and it’s pretty cool. Think dolphins! Sawyer was overjoyed. It was also a somewhat enclosed space so I let Cooper run a bit. He darted and did his thing. I turned my head for one minute and I heard a lady LOUDLY shout at Cooper…’You’ve got to be kidding me? Are you serious right now?’ I put two and two together and figured out that Cooper threw a handful of goldfish crackers at her. And by handful I mean three goldfish crackers. Three. She was standing directly in front of a mesmerizing ceiling high glass tank.
I knew instantly that he threw it at the tank to hear the sound it would make. He didn’t even see her.
As I walked over Cooper ran off to the next thing. He had no idea what he did. The lady looks at me and shouted again, ‘Are you kidding me? Really! What child does that?’
In my head I am sarcastically thinking, ‘I am SO SORRY that a child threw three tiny pieces of food at you. The injuries must be insane. Please, let me help you.’
Instead, I stammered out…’I am so sorry. He’s autistic. He doesn’t understand. He probably didn’t even see you. He likes to hear the sound that is made from throwing stuff against wall…or in this case…the tank.”
And then my voice broke as I repeated, ‘he’s autistic.’
And she apologized. Repeatedly. She repeated….’oh, I totally get it’ probably 5 times.
And in my head I thought…’nope lady, you don’t get it. Or you wouldn’t freak out on a 4 year old boy at the zoo and wreck my day.’
She even made an attempt to follow me. I think she wanted to make herself feel better for yelling at the special needs kid. I just walked away. More like I chased after Cooper. I didn’t have time to make this woman feel better. Cooper was onto the next thing. Which happened to be tipping the wagon over. Sigh.
Her words didn’t bother Cooper at all. He didn’t even hear her. Which is a good thing. If she would have scared him I would have strangled her with my bare hands.
Her words bothered me though.
This is going to happen more and more. I know it.
When a child is 2 or even 3 you can get by on age. The differences don’t show as much. You can blend in. There is no blending in at age 5.
The screeching, head hitting, flapping and throwing are not cute anymore. Those traits annoy people. They frustrate people. And they draw lots and lots of attention. Some people are curious. And some people stare.
It’s a fine line. Cooper needs to know that he can’t throw stuff at people. But he also doesn’t have the skills to grasp the concept quite yet. And he was so deregulated the punishing him wouldn’t do any good.
I thought about that lady for a week or so. And how I am so scared to bring him to public places like that. I know I can’t hide. Or hide him from the world. But it would be so much better if I could.