[I know a lot of you will remember this post all the way back to March 10, 2011. I do and found it on purpose. It’s the holiday season. My own experience has been that I see a lot of weird stuff during the holidays when I’m out shopping. Things that might make me open my mouth and butt into someone else’s business. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to think twice and remember how I feel in those situations…. Happy Weekend Everyone!]
As parents of kids with ASD, we are constantly confronted with people who have absolutely zero understanding of the challenges we face on a daily basis with our children. I, personally, have been taught that certain behaviors have to be ignored, even in public. Whatever the volume, whatever the behavior, often the advice is to just ignore it.
That said, it becomes obvious why we do not appreciate the busybody that sticks his/her nose in the middle of our business. We especially do not appreciate it when our child is in the middle of screaming, yelling, kicking, laying down or whatever individually inappropriate behavior is being exhibited in public. Gawkers and bystanders who interfere just intensify an already stressful situation. And so, I have added my voice to the chorus that just want people to MYOB.
Based on these principles, I was not pleased with myself yesterday morning when it was I who was thinking of being the buttinsky into something I witnessed at the mall. I had an overwhelming desire to open my big mouth and give my opinion. Had I become the person I have detested and tried to counsel others against? A hypocrite? You tell me.
Every morning after I drop my son off to circle time, I head straight for the coffee shop where I pick up my chai tea. I have limited time. I have to get my tea and get back to pick up the kid. His slow integration into preschool means he can only stay for circle time. I have 20 minutes to drop him off, get tea, and pick him up again for behavioral therapy.
Lucky for me, I grabbed a coveted, prime slot in the parking lot at the mall entrance closest to the coffee shop. As I rush in the door, I see a large, hispanic adult male sitting on a bench. As I glance his way, he looks like he is pouting. My eyes then move to the short, rotund, hispanic woman who is in his face, yelling at him.
“We did not come all this way to have you sit here. There are other benches and other chairs where you can sit and wait if you want to.” After these first two sentences I figured this was a private family issue and kept walking. I was thinking I was glad I was not in that family. Then, as I continued down the hall, I heard more.
“We came here as a group and I am not going to put up with your sh** today. I am sick and tired of it. I don’t feel well today. Get off your ass and go join the group.”
Oh. A group. Wait – what? A family group?
As I got down to the end of the hall, I saw a small group of developmentally disabled adults. They were standing there looking down the hall from whence I came at the hispanic man and the woman yelling at him. She was still yelling. “Come on. Get up. Let’s go.” she said.
Okay. Now I had the full picture. She was a caregiver, from either a group home, day care center or a group home. These were developmentally disabled adults on a “field trip” to the mall for the day. She was none too pleased with this man because he did not want to budge from the bench by the door. That meant she could not leave him and she was mad. Or she was pretending to be mad. She sounded mad to me.
She actually sounded verbally abusive to me. I was well on my way down the escalator to the level where I get my tea when I reached that conclusion. By this point, I was mad too. Why did she yell at him? How was this going to get him going? And why was she yelling at this developmentally disabled adult in a public setting?
I have had a glimpse of “care” that is provided by a small portion of the employees within these group homes. By no means do I believe this to be true of the majority. There are many loving compassionate people who work in this field and I admire them. But, in my other life as a lawyer, I represented a manager of a group home, day care center (an angel) who was terminated when she complained of patient abuse and neglect by others. The details I learned in this case are horrific and despicable. The degree of supervision exercised by the State that licenses them is minimal due to – surprise -a lack of funding.
With this background in mind, I started fuming. I thought about going back upstairs and telling her exactly what I thought. How terrible I thought she was. Just as I was about to do so, I ran into a person I had not seen for a long time. She had given birth to her second child who was now almost walking and I had last seen her when he was an infant. Cornered, I stood in line with her showing me new photos, got my tea and did not run back upstairs.
After I said goodbye, I headed back up. The group had left the spot at the end of the hall. I felt bad that I had not stepped up and intervened in what I perceived to be a bad situation. Then, as I headed down the hall, I saw the same hispanic male, still sitting on the bench where I first saw him. All around the bench, standing and sitting, were other developmentally disabled adults, talking and smiling. The woman who had been yelling, was sitting on the bench. She was smiling and talking.
Apparently, the problem was solved with the group splitting in two. One group was walking the mall, and the other group staying behind on the bench, chaperoned by the woman who had yelled. They were all quietly talking and smiling. The source of her discontent was quiet. I looked at him. He smiled at me.
So, the tables were turned yesterday. I got an eyeful of what people around me see and perceive of me. Now mind you, I’m not yelling at my son or using foul language at him. I’m not excusing that this woman yelled at this man. But I don’t really know what was going on except for what I’ve told you here.
Should I have intervened? What good would it have done? Would she have told me where she worked? Would anyone? Doubt it. Would I have upset the others there for their trip? Definitely.
The only difference between me glancing at this group and their exchange and the busybodies that “glance at me and my son” is that I had something intervene today that stopped me from butting in.
I learned something today that maybe I should consider the next time I get mad at people who think I am a bad parent. Maybe their interference is born out of good stuff and not bad. I saw myself on the other side today. I wanted to help that man sitting on the bench who could not defend himself. I jumped to a conclusion from what I saw and heard. When I saw them a second time, they appeared to all be happy.
So, the next time someone gives me the stare or interferes, I think I may try saying, “I know you mean well but my son has a disability and I have been taught how to handle this. Thanks for your concern.” Of course, I can already see many situations where this just would not work.
That caregiver may have lost it at the moment I walked in but when I came back, I could see she was doing what she could. I did not interfere. But I could have just as easily been one of the moms who interfered with me, back when I lifted my screaming child and told him no more escalators in the mall.
So, I’m going to try to consistently be the mom who minds her own business. I’ll try to be more gentle with the next busybody I encounter. Live and learn, Karen. Live and learn.
What would you have done?