To the woman who stayed . . . 

A week or so ago I found myself in a pretty tough situation out in the community. We were at an orchard with our family and friends.

My son Cooper decided he was done. He was done with the apples and the tractors and the noise and sounds. And walking. Which is fine. He had done amazing. Except we were a mile away from the exit. His decision came out of nowhere. And we were stuck.

My sweet misunderstood boy is nine years old. Almost 10. He is autistic. He has autism. He is learning to navigate the world around him. And it’s not always easy for him. He does his best.

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His progress in the community outweighs his struggles by a million. But. And it’s a huge but. He went fight or flight on me. And I was trapped.

When he realized I couldn’t snap my fingers and transport us to the exit, he dropped to the ground on me and sprawled out and started kicking.

I dropped down with him protecting his head, absorbing his kicks.

He went onto have unsafe behaviors toward himself and me.

I am tough. I can handle it. He is tough. He can handle it. But I will admit, I felt my internal panic start to rise. I didn’t know how I would get us out of this situation safely.

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I tried everything I knew. I wasn’t succeeding and I knew I had to wait him out.

When it dawned on me that we were still in public, I looked up and saw people staring. See, I go into Cooper’s world when this happens. He is my only focus.

I saw the crowd watching us. Some people averted their eyes. Some watched us with curiosity. Some scurried away as fast as they could to avoid a mom and her 9-year-old son struggling.

I looked down. Feeling trapped. Tears in my eyes. We were on full display.

When suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up. It was my neighbor Kate. While everyone else ran away she came to me.

“How can I help,” she said.

And just like that, I was back to reality.

”I need to get him out of here. And fast. I need you to help me, Kate. Can you hold my purse?’

For the next 20 minutes, she moved with us. She never left.

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She held my purse. She deflected stares. She stood over me, shielding me while I protected my son. And she stood tall with me, shoulder to shoulder, once I got him up off the ground, as onlookers stared.

She complimented me. She supported me. She listened to me, too.

When we eventually made it to the playground near the exit she stood back, her eyes never leaving us. She watched the whole time, moving silently with us, as I kept my boy safe.

I knew she was there and that she wasn’t leaving.

Cooper will be 10 in two months and I have never had a person stand such guard over me before. Not ever.

Having her near me was everything I have always needed. Even as I type this, weeks later, I feel so thankful for her. She never left.

Thank you, Kate, for staying. I know you didn’t know what to do. I imagine you were even a bit shocked and possibly scared. The challenging parts of autism are often hidden and you saw it all. I can never thank you enough for staying near us.

We made it out. My son did his best. And I saw unbelievable kindness.

Look for the helpers, parents. They are out there.

Originally published on Finding Cooper’s Voice

Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson, founder of Finding Cooper's Voice, is a writer and an eternal optimist. She resides in Minnesota with her husband and three sons, Cooper, Sawyer and Harbor. She has created a community online where families of children with special needs can come and celebrate the unique highs and lows that accompany this journey.