People are going to stare. That’s just a fact of life. They could be staring at us in a loving way or staring at us in a rude and ugly way. We’ve seen both. So what’s the best way to handle the staring?
That’s the golden question I hear most by parents who have children who are newly diagnosed. They want to know what they are supposed to do when their kid is on the floor displaying all the things a public meltdown can bring.
These parents who are new on their journey are worrying about what is the correct response to handle rude stares. In an already stressful situation, they are worrying about the people around them. So how are we, as parents and caregivers, supposed to handle the comments and the stares?
In a perfect world, it should be people in today’s society asking what they should do. In my opinion, there are only two options. The first is to ask if there’s any way you can help. If you don’t like that option, then keep walking and mind your own business. We certainly do not need you standing there with your rude stares and whispers in an already high-stress situation.
As for parents, I’m not sure that there is just one correct way to handle the stares. The best way for me is to ignore everyone around me whether he’s having a meltdown, yelling, being extra silly or he wants a hug or kiss from one of us. I’m in that moment with him, not caring what others are thinking. After almost 14 years into this journey with him, I know people will stare.
It took me a while to get to that point of honestly not caring about other people’s opinion was of him or me. I went through all the motions of explaining he has autism, on occasion even yelling very ugly at the people staring. I don’t apologize for his behavior when he is having a meltdown and I sure don’t apologize for him being extra loud because he’s excited. If an apology is appropriate, yes, I will apologize to someone. Just like every child is different, we as parents and caregivers are different too. We have to figure out what’s the best way for us to handle things and sometimes that’s by trial and error.
You will eventually learn not all stares are rude. We were five hours into our two-day road trip from Virginia to Louisiana when we stopped to get dinner in a small town. All three kids were super hyper in the restaurant. The oldest was giggling and laughing as loud as he could. He was trying to get me to talk to him like Cookie Monster. He had been in the car for the last five hours listening to Cookie Monster give directions. Thanks, Waze. The middle boy was doing everything in his power to make his little sister scream about something. Then the oldest and youngest proceeded to make everyone in the restaurant tell them hello. Needless to say, it was chaotic at our table. I noticed a couple looking our way, we made eye contact and smiled at each other. My crew, of course, kept being themselves. I kept right on refereeing the middle and youngest and talking like Cookie Monster to the oldest. Dad brought our food and we enjoyed it. The couple enjoyed their dinner too, continuing to steal glances over at our table. When they got ready to leave they came over to our table. They talked with the kids for a few seconds and then told us how much they enjoyed watching us and that we have a beautiful family.
I have learned through many conversations with people the different reasons for why they are watching us. Some are parents who are in the same boat as us. Some have friends and extended family members who have disabilities. Some people just are intrigued and “admiring” us. They’ll ask us different questions about our life. These are the encounters with people that put a smile on my face and hope in my heart. With positive experiences, you get to see the good part of society. These individual encounters with strangers can give you the hope that there are people out there who will love and accept your child for who they are. Not what the rest of society thinks they should be or how they should act.
So, stares are going to happen. Good stares and bad stares. Don’t let the rude part of society keep you in your home hiding with your child. Make those memories on vacation, at the park, at the museum, at the pool. Take your kid to run errands with you. It’s your life to live, don’t allow others to bring you down. Your family has the same right as everyone else to be out and about doing things. Go out and spread some awareness and have fun while you’re making those memories. If it turns out to be a bad day, remember there’s always tomorrow.