Editor’s Note- Lisa Ann is an amazing mom, friend and Autism Warrior, when she reached out to ask if she could write to share this lesson, I had mixed feelings, the first was joy, as I have wanted her words to be a part of KNOWDifferent for a long time. The next emotion was sadness, sadness that a family had this happen in the town we live in, by people we could know and it easily could have been me and my family. I am turning my sadness into deeper commitment. I am not going away, I will fight with all my words to get our kids accepted and safe. With warriors like Lisa Ann – there will be NO stopping us.
Your job- and please take it seriously- SHARE this- all over! Let your friends, family, co workers and everyone read this. Serve compassion, with a side of honesty. I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to email or comment.
Today I learned about a local family that encountered the kind of treatment you see on TV shows like Undercover with Don Quinones. On the show we watch while a fictitious family who has a child with autism, is ridiculed and asked to leave a restaurant because their child is having a meltdown. You’ve seen the viral videos. You’ve liked them and shared them. We’re all such great people on Facebook and we love and support families like this one. We even practice some form of autism awareness during the month of April. But, do we exhibit compassion when this happens in real life? It really had me wondering, what do YOU do? What would you do? More importantly, do you know what to do in that situation?
I’m a big believer that when people know better, they not only do better, but want to do better. I will continue to believe that and so it’s my mission and responsibility to make sure that you know better about this particular topic.
I have a child with Autism and I’m just one of the many families in this area. The most current statistics released has 1 out of every 68 children having autism. So here’s the reality of it for you and for all of us: We aren’t going anywhere. The numbers are continually rising and if you don’t know someone with Autism, you will very soon. Hopefully, all of these children go on to become adults too, and they will require a lot of the same needs as our children from society as a whole. I can share with you, from my point of view, what we need from you.
As I gather my thoughts to explain it respectfully, I can’t help wondering how you’re feeling as you’re eating your meal and an outbreak happens. Maybe you’ve hired a sitter and this is your hard earned meal out and you just want peace and quiet. Maybe you feel like this just isn’t your problem. These people need to simply remove themselves if they can’t get their child under control. I’m not saying you’re wrong on any of those counts. BUT, what if you looked at it differently. What if you knew that this meal out was a social experience. That this family has been working towards for months. The intention is that this child could order his/her meal independently while hopefully tolerating all the incoming sensory overload of sights and sounds to do this task. What if this child, unbeknownst to you, is in physical pain, but lacks the communication skills to tell his/her parents? What if this family did everything they could to avoid a meltdown, but it happened despite everyone’s best efforts over something that you would consider totally meaningless and benign? These are just a few of the possible scenarios for them. I assure you there are more.
Would you feel any differently? Do you feel an inclination to show compassion and sit through the awkwardness of something weird and unfamiliar happening just a few feet away? I hope you said yes. I realize that maybe you didn’t. Maybe you still think this is our problem and we should just go home and deal with our children privately where you don’t have to experience it. Let me offer you this thought. Showing patience, understanding and acceptance could be a contribution to this family, to this community that you can really feel good about it and you don’t have to donate a single dollar. Really! How about you walk out of this restaurant feeling good about the fact that you helped this family by showing tolerance. How would it feel if an undercover reporter jumped out and asked you why you couldn’t be kind, empathetic or patient? Would you be okay having that broadcasted on TV? Would you be proud of that reaction if you were being watched? Or would you be a hero to an exhausted family who just wants the same thing you do. To not cook tonight. To have a family dinner out the best way they can.
As special needs parents, we have a very important job and that is to help our children be as “normal” as possible. We also have to do that for ourselves. We can’t stay locked up in the house for fear that we might offend someone or get kicked out of a restaurant. We have a tough job to do. We need to stay as sane as possible so that we are able to take care of our children and that may be a long term commitment. Understand that we love our children just as much as you do yours. We aren’t any different. We don’t think we’re entitled to something special because our children have disabilities, we just need for you to be kind and compassionate.
So what should you do? Well, you can do nothing and that’s perfectly okay. You could also smile or make eye contact demonstrating warmth to the parents. You could look at us and say “it’s okay I understand.” You could literally do anything other than complain and make ugly gestures or expressions and it would be okay.
As business management what should you do? If a customer complains, I think you should say that your establishment practices tolerance and acceptance of all people regardless of their disabilities and that you’d like to extend that sentiment to the family and ask them to do the same. The response might surprise you. You could offer a private room if one is available for them to possibly manage the situation. You could offer to accommodate whatever the child’s needs are whenever it’s possible. You could even show solidarity and stand in the room to make your position obvious to other patrons and that family that you are available and ready to help.
We have all been somewhere, at some point, where a child went nuts. That child could have been normal, spoiled, sick, high on sugar, ADD, ADHD, Downs Syndrome, or could’ve had Autism. Does it matter? Whether you have children or not, you were a child at some point. This is a society and if you just can’t handle children then move to the country and don’t eat out in family friendly restaurants. If you go into a public establishment, do yourself a favor and put on your sympathy sweater. It won’t kill you. It might even make you a better person, or make life easier and couldn’t we all stand a little improvement?
To quote a phrase made famous by the movie High School Musical “We are all in this together”. Ps. That’s my son’s favorite movie and I’ve seen it 128,438 times and I’m okay with that.
Lisa Ann Peters is the proud mother of two, autism warrior, the Richmond, Virginia chapter coordinator for Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), and owner of The Locker Room Bar & Restaurant. She is a contributing writer for RichmondMom.com and Autisable.