I believe people need to see beyond what their eyes show them—especially when looking at children. Once during a shopping trip, I saw a young mother crouching over her daughter, who rolled back and forth on the floor with her eyes screwed shut and her hands clamped over her ears. The mother whispered, “Chandra, it’s okay. We can go. You just need to calm down a bit so Mommy can help you up.”
Not one person stopped to ask if things were okay or if the mother needed help. My heart went out to that mother. My daughter Jaimie has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). We never knew what lurked in the shadows of certain stores to set her off: A new smell, announcements made over the intercom, that one flickering light off in the corner nobody else would notice…anything and everything was potential sensory trigger. We rarely got our shopping finished as Jaimie broke down into an inconsolable fit we couldn’t calm her down from. And it could be quite a show for passers-by.
I remember how my face flushed as people smiled, laughed or gave that head tilt that said, “Oh you poor thing.” I even had one lady say all Jaimie needed was a “good spanking.” I never cared what people thought because, honestly, how could they know? How could an outside person truly understand what was happening unless they took the time to ask or, at the very least, listen as I spoke to Jaimie?
I never yelled at Jaimie or threatened her to be quiet. I tried desperately, like the young mother, to calm my child enough—to bring her focus back—so I could help her leave the scary place to find a safer place. With this experience under my belt, I approached the young woman—from a safe distance—and offered my help.
“No.” She said sternly. “No offense but your ‘help’ will only make things worse. Chandra can’t deal with strangers. She barely tolerates me some days. She has Autism.”
As we shared our experiences with our children for several minutes, the mother eased. Chandra finally calmed down enough to be helped up so they could leave. Before they walked out the door, her mother touched my arm and said, “You know, it’s rare to have someone approach us the way you did and offer their help instead of treating us like we’re some free admission freak show. We appreciate it. Good luck with Jaimie.”
There are many disorders, like Jaimie’s or Chandra’s, that aren’t obvious from the outside. It’s’ not obvious on their faces or bodies. Their disorders are buried deep within them only giving a hint of its presence through the child’s overt behaviour.
Parents of special needs children only want understanding for their children. I believe the next time people see a parent struggling with their child they should try looking at the situation from a different viewpoint. See what’s beneath the surface. That’s where understanding stems from.