I got a “look” today from a woman as we were leaving the grocery store, but it wasn’t the usual look. It was the pinched smile, raised brow and sympathetic eye gaze of someone who, if nothing else, “got” that my Boy was miserable.
He was full on meltdown and long, long past rationalizing a way out of his torment.
I didn’t know her. I don’t know that I would recognize her again if I saw her. I have only a vague memory of light hair pulled back tightly from her face. Or maybe it was brown and just highlighted. I don’t know.
But I saw her.
And I was grateful.
There are lots and lots and lots of blogs and articles online complaining about the rudeness of other people when autism affects their day unexpectedly. I’ve had a few of those incidents myself, but only a few.
The rest can usually be categorized as either blank-stared shock or awkward avoidance. A small percentage, usually someone of the more… Ahem… Grandmotherly persona, occasionally attempts to cajole him into distraction, which doesn’t work and in fact usually makes the situation worse, but is actually very thoughtful.
The rarest of the rare though, the golden response, the creme de la creme of acknowledgment,
Not sympathy for me because ‘my child has autism and OMG!!!‘ but sympathy because ‘he is upset and his Momma is sad that he is upset.‘
It might come from a place of experience or empathy or compassion or just flat out kindness. I don’t know. And I don’t know because it is so rare.
It’s a very lonely feeling, having a child you love more than anything in the world fall apart in front of you when you know the only thing you can do to make it better is push through or leave. It’s isolating. I can handle it like a badass, don’t get me wrong. I can carry that 45lb, writhing five-year-old superhero under my arm like a football all the way through a super Wal-Mart and out through the parking lot like I carry the mail. I can stay calm and keep my head up, my keys ready, his shoes on and still make eye contact with anyone in my way. There is no defensive lineman that can block a Spectrum Mom.
I can usually even find my car in the lot the first row I walk down, too. This is part of my natural awesomeness: don’t be intimidated.
But no matter how well I can manage grocery shopping during a nuclear meltdown, I still feel the social isolation of it.
So, Ms. Eye Contact, I just wanna say “thank you.” Thank you for holding my gaze long enough for me to smile back. Thank you for breaking me out of the zone and spending 2 seconds out of your day to acknowledge me.
Thanks for really seeing us.
(& Super Underpants thanks you, too)