Me, My Autistic Son, And Meltdowns In Public

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Alex is a sweet boy.

He’s happy all the time, and he’s rarely ever sad or unhappy. He has a glowing report at school, and if we were to write a report at home for him, it’d be a superior, glowing one too. Chances are, we’d not have much to say bad about him, because he does as he’s told, behaves most of the time and tries to please us as well as try and get his own way.

His relationship with us as parents is really good. He receives kisses and hugs from both Mummy and Daddy randomly and when he needs it. And we’re forever telling him that we love him. I was reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to him last night and out of the blue he came out with:

“Daddy, I love you very much.”

And that made my heart melt there and then. Because emotions are hard for Alex, he doesn’t process them like a neuro-typical child. I’d expect most of his classmates would be comfortable deciding what to do in the playground, and if it gets boring then they’d move onto something more satisfying. Not my son. He stops what he’s doing and then does nothing else. He has to actively be told that he can do other things and where they are, but that’s autism for you.

Yet, he’s very focused on himself, a young boy, inside his own world with his own thoughts that perceives the world entirely different to you and I. He often tells us that he’s been playing with Katie, or Iris, yet when they get bored it doesn’t occur to him that he can go off and change momentum with them. He’s happy, continuing playing with his hoops, on his own. But he’s content, and that’s the main thing.

It’s the same when he melts down. Usually it’s because he can’t see things from our point of view. We are trying to break the routine of what he is doing and that’s not good in his mind. And his breakdowns are often accompanied with violence. One day he threw something at me and nearly broke my nose. He hid for cover because I did scream loud, but I don’t think he realizes his actions when he’s in the middle of full meltdown.

And occasionally we will have a meltdown in the middle of public, sometimes the noises are too great, or the lights too bright, because a normal situation to us, for him, could be like flashing a bright light in your eye whilst someone is screaming at the top of their voice in your ear, and stabbing you with a thousand needles. We’ll never know. I’m lucky enough to not experience sensory overload, but I bet it’s not easy.

And it’s great sitting in the future looking back at a meltdown and analyzing it from all different angles and knowing it was the right thing to do, but it’s so much tougher in the moment. Social situations and cues mean nothing to him. He’ll break right down in the middle of a library if he has to, and it’s tough.

It’s tough while you’re trying to calm the situations between the onlookers and just the people that want to shove in their oar in, and it’s never positive.

I had one lady take my son’s legs without my permission and shove them in the supermarket trolley, and walked away shaking her head, saying:

“Men! Pah.”

And while she helped, it wouldn’t have been long before I was able to calm him down, give him a distraction and get him in. And obviously my situation fueled her negative perception of men. I’ve had people walk up to me in the past and tell me to control my spoiled brat, shoot me stares, give unwanted advice, even professionals shoving their unprofessional opinion in.

And while I’m really not one to give a hoot what anyone thinks, because I don’t, I’m just not invulnerable. I can say quite honestly that in the moment it doesn’t feel great to have people judge my wife and I when my son melts down. It makes me feel like a failure as a parent at times, and it does her. Because there’s always that self-doubt in the back of our minds asking us:

“Should we have handled that better? Could we have done anything else?”

Normally we’re quite supportive of one another, and we can get through life toughest of situations together, but when people judge without knowing the whole facts it can chip away at our esteem and cause us to over analyze.

But luckily it’s not something we dwell about too much. We’re fairly confident people, and, we don’t normally bother about people that judge. We just know this is an ongoing problem within the Autistic community, and a shout out from us,

Because you’re not alone.

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