Strangers’ Reactions are Not About Me

Yesterday I took all three kids to the hair salon to get the boys’ hair cut. How we managed the hair cut sensory overload is a whole different post that I haven’t written yet. What I want to write about right now is what happened with Lady Bug and I while we waited.

Lady Bug was having a hard time at the salon. She really wanted to play and stim with the mirrors; but I couldn’t let her keep climbing up into a chair. Also, unexpected loud hair-dryer noises would randomly start and scare her. Also, in the past few months, Lady Bug has gone from having zero issues with clothing to being so sensitive that only wants to be naked. I blame the heat. What this means for us is that she’s naked at home and only insist on clothing when we leave the house. She will ask for naked in public, but I tell her we can’t be naked there and she usually accepts that. She also wants her shoes off in public; we had a bit of back and forth while waiting because I didn’t really want to take her shoes off in a dirty environment. But I could see she was having a really hard time, so any little thing I could do to help her, even if it wasn’t the greatest optic, I did.

So as you can see, there were a lot of factors working against Lady Bug as we waited. And waited. It was busy, it was crowded, and there was a lot of sensory problems. I thought she was maintaining a good attitude pretty well, after the initial adjustment to a new, noisy place. A stranger seated next to us apparently had a different opinion. I had set Lady Bug’s stuff up in a corner (she loves corners) but as she was going in and out of the corner she was touching this man’s leg. I asked him if he was okay with that, and he said it was fine. Then he said, “You have more patience than I would have.”

Now, at face value, that sounds like a compliment, right? But the tone in which he said it made it sound like a judgment of my little girl. Like he wouldn’t have stood for her behavior. “She’s autistic.” I responded defensively. “Yeah, I know.” he said. “My nephew is.”

Wow, did I feel sorry for his nephew in that moment. So, he had a good idea that she is autistic, and likely struggling, and he still had that tone in his voice?! Not cool, I thought.

And I started to get really annoyed. I mean, how dare this jerk be so judgy about a kid who is just doing her best in a hard-for-her situation?

But then I reminded myself: his attitude was not about my parenting, nor about my kid’s behavior. It’s about that stranger’s mindset. Two strangers watched my daughter that day. One laughed and delighted in her joyful stim dance. One grumbled and told me I had more patience than him when she struggled. There was nothing I could have done to influence or control how these strangers reacted to my out of ordinary daughter. I can’t make them like her more. I can’t keep them from being annoyed by her. I have no control over their reactions; that’s completely on them.

I’m writing this because I’ve seen in multiple mom groups, parents of autistics getting upset over strangers in public saying unkind, judgy things, or making faces as their kid does something totally harmless but out of the ordinary. If that describes you, I want to encourage you to recognize that you can not control how people react to your child in public. There is nothing you can do to keep a person who is already predisposed to be hateful to not be that way. You can’t control all your child’s unusual behaviors to avoid the risk of a stranger being and asshole. So, don’t. Don’t try to keep your kid from looking different. Don’t try to control strangers’ thoughts. Haters are going hate. Auties are going to stim. The more they see it, the more they’ll be acclimatized. And in the mean time, those starger’s reactions have nothing to do with you. So ignore them.

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