Weekend Archives: What Happens When the Tables are Turned…

[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?


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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27 Responses to Weekend Archives: What Happens When the Tables are Turned…

  1. Julie says:

    We don’t know who this woman was or what was going on in her world. I find compassion to be the best tool in these situations. I would have sat down on the bench next to the man, maybe taken out one of my son’s figets out of my purse and played with it for a moment to get his attention then offer it to him. I may have told the woman that I have bad days too with my son and acknowledge that it’s tough sometimes when people we care for are being stubborn. Just try to diffuse the situation.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of those nosey nelly’s. Once, I was in the market w/my son. He was in full melt down mode. Screaming and carrying on. We were walking down the back section of the market – my son in his “rocket ship” cart. A woman at the very end of the row was waving her arms frantically at us. I looked behind me but no one was there. When we got within voice range she said “OMG, you are a crazy driver, you better not run into me” and with that she bumped her cart into ours. ~waves magic wand~ My son burst into laugher. The rest of our shopping excursion was fine and that woman taught me that sometimes it’s a true blessing to have someone intervene.

    • solodialogue says:

      You are more extroverted than I am! I may have pushed my nose it where it did not belong if I had not run into that person downstairs but I would never integrate myself into the whole group. I’m grateful that woman did corner me because otherwise I may have just done the wrong thing! Funny story about the grocery cart! There are good ways to intervene! Thanks Julie!

  2. I would have avoided eye contact and kept going. Which I actually feel bad about, every time I do it. I think, what if I’m ignoring something where somebody legitimately needs help? When it’s a child, I wonder if the parent is thinking I’m deliberately not making eye contact because it’s embarrassing.

    I think from now on I’ll look at this totally differently. But the truth is, I never know what I’m supposed to do when something like that is going on. The truth is, so much of the time I’m sad I’ll never be a mom but when I see that, I think, “Maybe motherhood isn’t for me because I don’t think I’m equipped to handle that.” I’m sure I would be, but I think moms are just somewhere slightly below saints!

    • solodialogue says:

      Stephanie, I think we all sometimes walk past something and wonder if we should intervene and none of us are “in the moment” so to speak. Some people like Julie are more confident at reading people and intervening.

      As for motherhood, you won’t know until you know…

  3. Jen says:

    Me being gentle is leaving the situation, bc I am not a calm person and would go off on someone commenting to about my kid (see yesterday’s blog…ha). In this situation, I probably wouldn’t haves said anything. If I was lucky, maybe there would be a van outside with a name on it, and I could write a letter to the center about what I saw, but I don’t think it does any good to get in the middle. It’s sad. I worked at a nursing home in college and had to quit b/c of how awful the residents were treated. We give so little respect to the most vulnerable people. It’s terrible.

    • solodialogue says:

      Jen, I read that post and I was thinking of you, in part when I posted. It was so weird how the two events happened one right after the other.

      Like you, I lose my cool easily. I did hesitate and the best thing that happened in that situation for me was to get cornered.

      I agree that we do have a problem respecting the vulnerable. I guess, in part, that is why we blog. Hopefully, someday, at least some of what we say will absorb and cause someone new to really expand their perspectives.

  4. Laura says:

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by my blog yesterday. I really appreciated your comment, and it left me thinking for the rest of the day. Would you mind I mentioned it in a post? Not the specifics of the comment but just that it got me thinking?

  5. I just don’t know what to say on this post, Karen. I was brought up to always try to do the right thing and I always try to be nice to people. But in a small town where people don’t typically know the names of their own neighbors, I’ve also been stung many-a-time by being too “friendly.”

    It’s funny because in a lot of therapies and treatments for our kids, the experts talk about the magic balance — like “just enough” sensory input so our kids get to experience new things, but no so much that they freak out.

    This is one of those places where that magic balance applies in real life too. The problem is that with everyone — that place of balance is different. Talk about helping kids with ASD try to understand social situations when they’re impossible for adults, huh?

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment, but as usual, you’ve made me think. Bless your heart 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Karla.

      This post leaves me wondering what is right. I don’t know. Everyone’s perspective is slightly different. I hope that, by this post, the thinking leads maybe just to someone’s own “solodialogue” and a person can know him/her self better. 🙂

  6. Lizbeth says:

    Oh Lord, why did you have to see this!!
    I was in a parking lot (Kohl’s) and a man was verbally abusing and shoving his “lady friend.” She had a baby in her arms. And he was nuts—calling her every name in the book, pushing her around, etc. So I opened up my mouth telling him to stop and asking if she was OK and they BOTH start yelling at ME -someting to the effect of “he’s my baby daddy–leave us alone, you stupid b*@ch!!!”

    Yeah, so now I just walk away. And I hate saying that…

  7. Julie says:

    Lizbeth – you did the right thing. Maybe after you walked away, they realized how stupid they were being. I’ve called the police in those types of situations.

    • Lizbeth says:

      That’s funny, I mean not funny HaHa, but I did do something like that. I had a friend who was a police officer and I called him at home and asked what to do. He said he’s send someone out but basically NOT to do anything and call the cops as he was afraid they would pull a gun on me!

      • solodialogue says:

        Yes, totally different situation. I think both you and Julie are right to involve the police instead of taking this on yourself. But it’s not so clear when your compassion for the baby is in the moment. Another tough question.

  8. Flannery says:

    Wow, what a tough situation. To be honest, I have been at the end of my rope a few times with my son, and can understand a little bit why that woman may have lost her cool. Still not okay in a public place, in my opinion, especially when it’s your job. Because I’m so sensitive to the subject, I probably would have said something, just to let her know how it looks to others. But I don’t blame you, it’s hard to know what to do in those situations. I’m glad for the perspective it gave you, and for you sharing it.

    • solodialogue says:

      Yeah, I am really with you on that because losing your cool on this kind of job? Very bad- especially in public. Interesting that you, too would have said something. My hot head might have got me in trouble with that.

  9. What I’ve found? Everyone needs a little help now and then. Everyone. And humor helps everything. Example: frustrated, over the edge mom yells at her kid in the grocery cart to stopclimbingoutidontwannatellyouonemoretime. Solution: Say to mom, very lightly and gently, I bet that’s not the first time you’ve said that today. Then play peekaboo or I Spy with the child.

    • solodialogue says:

      I agree with that in the situation of a child. This was a very large adult and his needs and communication were different. I would have intervened but not with humor and that is why it was fortunate I was distracted and unable. But when it comes to that situation with a child, I would agree that your solution would be a good one. Thanks, Brenda.

  10. Teresa says:

    What a conundrum. As mom to a nonverbal young adult I live in fear that he would have a care giver who would not love him for who he is; one who would become verbal when he acts inappropriately; one who would consider walking away and leaving him.

    What should you have done? A very tough question. I have had people butt in because they thought my son was being mistreated when in actuality he was being redirected (albeit unwillingly). I’ve got friends who have had store managers threaten to call the police because it “appeared” to them that their child was being mistreated.

    If you had said something would this caregiver have taken your words in the spirit they were given? Or would she have taken it out on the young man?

    I’m not sure what the best answer would be but as a parent I would like to feel that if my child was being abused (and I do consider yelling in this fashion to be abusive) that someone would be brave enough to speak up.

    • solodialogue says:

      Wow, you gave me chills with this one. I do not know if this would further fuel her against this man. He did not appear young. He appeared to be about 40. Being brave enough to speak up might have done no good or caused further problems.

      Not knowing where they came from, I doubt the information would have been received in good spirits. And I was not capable of conveying it in that way because I was angered. So, given those circumstances – the event, as it unfolded ended with their smiles. And my silence.

      Thanks Teresa.

      • Teresa says:

        When my son was young and I was still working I had a sitter for the summer. Coincidentally, my brother mowed the lawn for my neighbor. One day he told me about hearing the sitter yelling at my son. Granted Matthew was difficult, hyperactive, and a general challenge back then but… I remember crying about it because my baby couldn’t tell me that there was a problem. I fired the sitter but did not have the courage to tell her why. Instead my brother watched Matthew the rest of the summer. I got exactly what I expected, a brother who loved “kicking back and watching cartoons” but a son who was safe.
        There is no doubt special needs children (and adults) can be very challenging. And perhaps the person you saw was just having a really tough time getting the man to follow direction. I’m not sure smiles at the end warranted the earlier behavior. I suppose the continued questions about handling this are the reason we have the anonymous reporting ability to child/adult protective agencies.

  11. Lynn says:

    I would probably have done what you did. I don’t think I would have said something intially but then I probably would have nosed around to see how it ended up. Before I had a special needs kid of my own, I would have blown past and not even given it a second thought. Now I feel much more invested in the disabled..even strangers.

    • solodialogue says:

      Fate held me back. I might have interfered to no good end but it was not to be. I was glad when I saw the smiles at the end. And yeah, I guess that was nosing around, wasn’t it?

  12. Kelly says:

    Great post, per usual! I have seen situations similar to this with group outings at the mall. I have come so close to saying something, but in the end, I have always chickened out. Then I brood and ponder the fate of that individual. Or at very least wonder what the rest of the person’s day will bring. It really is a tough call: whether to interject my opinion, or butt out!

  13. eof737 says:

    It was best to be in observer role for a change… so not intervening had its own lesson…

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