To the lady in the restroom at the grocery store today,
You don’t know this, but my young child who was having a meltdown over washing his hands has autism and ADHD.
He didn’t want to wash his hands after using the bathroom. And when I explained to him that we always have to wash our hands after using the restroom, he tried to run out.
I stopped him and brought him back over to the sink.
He wet his hands and got some soap without a fight and for a moment, relief washed over me.
Until he decided that he didn’t want to wash the soap off his hands.
That’s when things took a turn.
He ran to the hand dryer laughing like crazy and started to dry his hands.
I tried to get him back over to the sink to rinse the soap off, and he began kicking, screaming, and biting me.
At this point, you were standing by a sink on the other end of the restroom with your child watching me struggle with mine.
You looked almost afraid and were trying to keep your child as far away as possible.
When I finally managed to get my son’s hands rinsed off you seized your opportunity to rush your child past us and out of the restroom as quickly as possible with a look of disgust on your face.
I’m sure to you this looked like an example of a parent who can’t control their child.
Like it’s a result of my parenting or my child must just be “bad.”
But I’m here to inform you that this is what life looks like for many families of special needs children.
It isn’t a parenting issue.
It isn’t a case of a “bad” child.
And we parents of special needs children are trying so much harder than you know.
You don’t see the countless hours of appointments and therapies and meetings we attend for our children.
You don’t see the stacks and stacks of paperwork and forms we have to regularly fill out for our kids to receive the services they need.
You don’t see how often we hold our children through a meltdown and whisper to them that we love them while we’re using every ounce of our own self-control to keep ourselves together.
You don’t know the feeling of shame, guilt, and embarrassment when meltdowns happen in public, and people like you make us feel even worse when what we need is compassion.
So the next time you see a mom with a seemingly unruly child, please think twice about how you will respond.
That child may have struggles you know nothing about.
That mom is probably doing the very best that she can.
And things like a trip to the store can be so very hard for families like mine.
Kindness from a stranger can go a long way in helping these trips be more successful.
I hope you remember today and think about this the next time you see a child like mine.
And more than anything, I pray you will teach your own child about children like mine and how kindness and inclusion will make all the difference in the world.