The embarrassment of Autism parenting

Last year we were able to combine a trip to see our biomedical doctor with a holiday, and see some sights along the way. It had been many, many years since we’d done that, and with Autism along for a ride, it’s not exactly a smooth trip. We were pretty well prepared for most things, but still managed to stuff up completely on one instance.

We went to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and took BuddyBoy along in his pram – something he objects to most of the time now but thankfully at the time he was happy to sit in it. We decided to go on a trip on the small train that goes on a track around the Wildlife park, and get off at the other end to see the exhibits there. What we’d failed to factor in was BuddyBoy’s love of riding trains (something we hadn’t done for ages), and when we got off the train, he had a full blown meltdown.

We were struggling with the pram, our bags, the other children to make sure they all got off the train and were following, as well as an extremely strong little boy who desperately wanted to go back on the train. He was kicking and screaming (very loudly) and we were too embarrassed to even look up at the other people around us. I just wanted to disappear into the ground – feeling as if everybody was judging our child and consequently our parenting. The other children were embarrassed, too, and we did the best we could to try and remove ourselves from public scrutiny, but it wasn’t easy. Especially with the loud screeching going on. Finally he calmed down and we stopped to take some deep breaths.

Conventional parenting wisdom tells you not to give in when your child has a tantrum, as otherwise they will continue to manipulate others with their behaviour in order to get what they want. An Autism meltdown however has nothing in common with a ‘normal’ child’s tantrum and all rules go out the window. We were fully prepared to take our son back on the train, but unfortunately that was not possible – it had been mobbed by a large group of Japanese tourists and no seats were available. No matter how hard you try to avoid meltdowns in public, there are times it’s just not going to be possible.

We do use key phrases like “first, then” to help him understand what we’re doing, as well as a visual timer card. These work well as long as you use them BEFORE the meltdown happens – during a meltdown, he is incapable of hearing us, let alone understanding us or using reasoning.

There are other times when we get strange looks – like when we used to be able to take our kids to the playground (something BuddyBoy no longer allows us to do). He loves swinging, so would head straight for his favourite swing, and if it was in use he would try to pull off whoever was on there so he could have a turn. Which people probably would find amusing if he was one or two years old, but not at age seven. We get dirty looks from the other parents (perfectly understandable) and then have to stand there, forcibly restraining our squealing son while explaining to him that he needs to take turns.

Many times we will not correct our son’s behaviours, when we would have corrected them with the other children. As his developmental age is not the same as his physical age, we tend to parent him at the lower age – which for his seven year old body is closer to a two year old intellect. The gap between the two is getting bigger as he is getting older, as his intellectual development is not keeping pace with his age, so the differences are much more visible in public now. No doubt the strange looks will increase as he gets older.

I’d like Autism Awareness to educate people on the behaviours they can expect to see in public from children like mine, not just on the ‘special gifts’ that some of these children have.

6 thoughts on “The embarrassment of Autism parenting

  1. I am new to word press and am currently not linked to any social media sites so unthought id give this a try as a way to vent, for lack of another word. I found your post wonderful, it helps me to not feel so alone in parenting my autistic daughter. Thank you.

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  2. Also…don’t be embarrassed be amazed at what you manage in a single day. You love your kids that’s important, if you enlighten someone along the way, all the better for them, you, and in anyone else they may encounter in the future. Autism is a daily lesson.

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  3. I am also a parent of children with autism, what I would like to see happen is less treatment, they are not sick, and more adaptation. I have explained to children on the playground when my kids ‘cut’ them in line exactly what they need to say to get their place back. When their parents overhear all the better, as I remind their teachers in school frequently, special isn’t privileged, make sure it isn’t a tantrum first, then move to the meltdown. Kids test even with autism and every parent with a kid with autism knows the difference.


  4. Every time we go somewhere on vacation, I have Kiddo wear some sort of autism awareness tee-shirt. He has a wonderful autism baseball shirt, which is a little more dressy as well as many, many other types of autism tee-shirts. He wear jeans and one of the shirts but since he is an adult, I think most people realize something is up with him.

    I started having him wear the autism shirts when he was about 12 and we were in Washington DC taking a tram around the city…and he *flipped off* a scary looking man and he came after Hubby…..we calmed the guy down but it could have been a tragedy. 😦 So when we are traveling or going somewhere Kiddo wears an autism shirt and we feel better…..and safer! Crazy, isn’t it?

    Raising my coffee cup in salute to you, honey!

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    • I have been thinking about that for a while – putting an ASD shirt on my son when we go out somewhere. I guess I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t really want his ‘label’ to be out there for the world to see, but now that he’s getting bigger I think it might be a good idea. That is a scary story about the guy on the tram – glad it worked out alright!


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