So, it’s no secret that my family lives in a world where because we have a child with autism, we often find ourselves sharing Autism Awareness most everywhere we go! If you do not notice our Hero while he’s happily playing his iPad games and clueless to what you may be saying to him, you will probably certainly notice at the point his ipad runs down or an even greater agitation when his beloved phone, (my phone), runs out of data! This in fact did happen to us one weekend recently while we were out shopping together.
Our shopping trips consist of quickness and an urgency to move through any store or anything that resembles such a hideous place, as soon as possible! We often go in armed with enough electronic gadgets to ensure that the battlefield A.K.A. as a department store is left enacted and no undue harm is caused to others out enjoying their shopping pleasures.
Think I am kidding?
Well, let me say this before we go any further… there was a time around our child’s three year mark that my husband (The Spouse) took our child to merely pick up a pizza order. Upon arriving at the pizza joint, The Spouse realized that he’d have to wait with our then non verbal son, in a very busy and popular restaurant , and with nothing to entertain the tike except for a few arcade style games in the room beside the cashier. The Spouse got him set up in front of a game and things were going well, (as always …and even at three if our kiddo can find an electronic of any sort, he can drown out anything else around him!) Eventually our order was called and The Spouse explained to our Hero that they had to leave. The Hero was not ready to leave such electronic goodness and as if a vampire had overtaken our darling child, he locked into The Spouse with all the might he could find!! The Spouse found himself juggling not only the pizza but a three year old junior vampire as well! What happened next? The Spouse, whom truly has the patience of a saint, turned back and with his own set of choppers bit right back into the small fries hand!! Can you picture this yet? Are you in the seat next to this battle of “who bites harder daddy vs. son?”
Are you judging this seen yet? Did you tell your kids with a whisper :Don’t ever do that to me in public!” Did you instead offer to help perhaps? It’s okay… we all do it. You cannot go out into this world without looking on others and making judgements of some sort. We all do it from time to time! I didn’t say it’s justified, just that human nature leaves most everyone to fall short in this department. I have and I do and…and, I know way too often have to go back and replay why I did/ didn’t judge something or someone…and how I truly should have looked at a situation before passing judgement.
It’s a hard lesson to realize we as people don’t always stand up to our own beliefs and break our own rules. It’s a life lesson that I believe often follows us from children throughout adulthood.
None the less….
Many things have changed over the years for our son, many wonderful and new things he now enjoys in a social atmosphere! He has truly come light years from his non verbal days but shopping, however, whether it be for him directly or anyone else on the planet is not one of those things he delights in! Shopping is a very social activity, Think about how much of a social environment it can be, I mean not only are you around other people from store to store but you wait in lines at every store type you visit. You must talk to a clerk, sales person, etc.
Now, jumping back into a couple of weekends ago and my bright idea to take my almost-as-tall-as-I-am 11 year old clothing shopping because I can no longer guess his sizes. Yes, he had his iPad on the car ride over. Yes, he had my phone during the shopping part, but having those things helped accommodate his need to not pace, or worry about what others around him were doing. He was very calm while trying on clothes and comfortable talking to me about some new adventure game he was playing. It also helped buy me some time after we were done in the fitting room because for the life of me…. I still like to have my kids in similar or matching clothes ….on rare occasions such as family dinners or family pictures! So, of course I shopped for the Tater Tot too!
With an arm full of clothes we march to the back of the store to find customer service, did I mention I had to exchange the Hero’s non fitting clothes too? I know what you’re thinking …”brave soul” or maybe “she was pushing it!”, or maybe “idiot!” (I assure you …all of the above are correct!) however, we had no line when we get to the back…I repeat, we had NO LINE!! It was like the best possible set up, right? Hmm. So “Sally” as we’ll call her, in customer service was a breathe of fresh air and she called us right over and begin to help ring the return up and make the exchanges promptly.
It was at this point the Hero realized how important mom’s words of wisdom were from about 3 days ago when he was reminded not to stay on the phone because my data was low … we were at a doctors appointment and the wait was making us both weary. (That extra long wait to see his doctor is for another story but you get the point!)
As my phone was no longer any good to him, he began to get frustrated and I told him about our plans to do something fun like go by the pet store next door when we were finished ….pet stores always makes my kiddos happy! With that thought lasting only a few seconds, he began to pace. He kept going back to the phone hoping it would work and then he would know what to do next. See, it’s when the phone went dead that he didn’t know what to do with himself. He can’t process short waits like most 11 year olds can and it didn’t help that Sally had just talked me into a store card because I would save X amount of money for getting a store card right then and there!!! (Disclaimer people: This is ALWAYS a lie, and we always fall for it too! If you take the store card, you always buy more than you intend to down the road! Don’t do it!!! Say No!! But, I didn’t because I was so caught up in Sally swooning me that I let her open me a store account! What???
At this point our once NO LINES back- of- the- store- hideaway was now mounting with customers wanting to get to Sally, the only clerk running the customer service area. The Hero is now very vocal about being board, wanting to leave, wanting to lay on Sally’s table and even asking about what the brochures on the wall were for? He then walks up to a customer and says something …I still don’t know what it was but my response was ….”hey buddy she’s going to tell you to deal with it! Come back over here!” The two ladies in line cracked a half hearted smile.
At that point I began speaking to him softly and rubbing the side of his cheek slowly…. I told him that I knew he was frustrated with the phone not working and that it was just a game, not a big deal and that in a few, few minutes we would be done and on to the pet store. I then began talking to him about what I needed his help with in the pet store. He calmed for a minute and I had a chance to glace back at Sally, whom at this time was not sure what to make of my son!! She was panicked and starting to adlib her own “sorrys” to our Hero. She turned from a helpful store clerk to someone whom did not recognize why my child was acting as he was.
I often wait to throw the autism explanation convo on the table …it can help a situation but then sometimes it can make an already anxious person well, more anxious! Sally was just trying to do her job and at warp speed at that point and I’m pretty sure we left her desk with discounts she just needed us to have, but finally, we were done!
I could already smell the lovely odor of the pet store in my mind as we turned to exit when about that time a hand reaches out to touch my arm and when I turned back it was the second customer in line waiting on her turn for a very frazzled Sally to assist her. This lady was older and gray headed and before I could even look at her fully she said ” I think you handled that wonderfully!” My response …are you ready for this ….was a somewhat judging one (See, I told you we ALL judge people!) …I said “He has autism, he’s doing good today!” She said again softly, “I think you handled that wonderfully. I am a special needs bus driver and I think you did great!” I had nothing else to say but an honest “Thank YOU!” before I turned to catch up with the manchild whom had already headed to the exit doors.
You see …as a parent of a child whom is now a preteen with an “invisible disability” , you often assume that the rest of the world looks on to think your child is simply spoiled and even if you educate others it can be hard from them to fully understand how necessary it can be to accommodate certain needs such as the above. Accommodations are not always so obvious ….most people think of wheelchairs and seeing eye dogs for example. Those are very well known types of accommodations, not so much is an iPad and cell phone! But if you look at what an accommodation means you can then realize that it can be very different from person to person.
I didn’t know the second customer in line that day but she did know us, well she knew of our situation and why we needed the accommodation that we did not have at the end of our transaction. And I think of her in my mind often to replay how she was our advocate that day, she was standing in the gap for my child! She acknowledged his need and stressed that we had worked through it and “wonderfully” as she had put it. All the others in line got a short lesson of what was really going on during their wait…because she was teaching them! And …I’m pretty sure she knew it too!
Thanks to customer #2… You will not be forgotten any time soon!