“Jesus, can’t she shut that kid up.” The scruffy, dirty man at the far end of the aisle whispers under his breath.
“When I was young they kept children like that away from the public. The parents had enough decency to put them in a home.” The old woman, sweet smelling and well coiffed, whispers back to the man standing next to her near the canned vegetables.
Mia is over stimulated. And I am burnt out. She used to enjoy the grocery store. She used to enjoy looking up at the huge fake tree that grows out of the linoleum in the middle of the produce department. She used to enjoy picking out our fruit for the week; counting them out carefully and putting them in the carriage with care. She used to enjoy walking up and down the aisles looking at all the colorful packages.
But for the past fifteen minutes she has been in hell and no amount of bribery has returned her to me. It has taken all of my energy to drag her out. Today she ran past the tree without even a glance in its direction. Today she threw the once carefully counted fruit on the ground in a frenzy. Today she shut her eyes tightly when
walking stumbling down the aisles with the brightly colored packaging. It was all just too stimulating. It was all just too much.
How was I to know that today she wouldn’t enjoy it as she always has before? How was I to know that today she would throw herself on the floor five times in ten minutes –staying down in the dirt until I physically picked her up. How was I to know that today would be different?
It’s days like this that I try my hardest to keep my cool even though I am dying inside. I’m not embarrassed by my daughter’s actions, although at one time I may have been. It’s days like today that I feel like a bad mother. I should be able to tell what days my daughter can handle a friendly romp at the grocery stores. I should be able to tell what days my daughter can’t. There are warning signs all around me. Sometimes I don’t notice them. Am I looking hard enough? Or am I choosing to ignore them?
But mostly, it’s days like today that I am angry. Angry that my daughter and I have to listen to heartless comments whispered just loud enough for us to hear. Angry that after all of this time, and all of the work for “awareness”, we still are so far away from attaining it. Angry that as I walk out the door, and all night since, I have had to question MY actions. Should I have tried explaining to either of those people what was really happening – that my daughter, over stimulated by the many sights, sounds, and even smells had completely shut down. Should I have tried explaining to them that she is not a bad child; that she is not an evil child. Should I have tried explaining autism and sensory processing disorder to them? Should I have done anything other than what I did do? If I had would they have even cared? Do they know what their comments have done to my soul? Do they have one themselves?
Those are the questions I have asked myself all night. And I don’t know the answers. But I do know that, had I tried explaining, my words would have been for naught. I know this to be true because instead of saying anything to them, I proudly picked my daughter up, put my basket down in the aisle, asked the nearest employee to put the items away and walked out of the aisle, but not before making eye contact with the older woman in a pitiful attempt to shame her (it didn’t work for my gaze was only meet back with an icy stare.)
I realized tonight, after hours of soul searching, that maybe we need more than just awareness, we need acceptance. Because those that are aware are not always inclined to accept. As the the lady in the aisle so proved. She was clearly aware of autism and what it is. She is so aware of it that she can spot it when she sees it. Acceptance though, that is what was lacking in her.
But why? Acceptance is such an easy thing to give. Acceptance is my only wish. And, acceptance is my request for this April, since April is “Autism Awareness Month”. Yes, we need awareness of what autism really is, and what autism really means, but even more so, we need to make people aware of acceptance. Acceptance on all levels, for all people, neurologically divergent or otherwise.
It’s just that simple.