Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Stares and Whispers

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Stares and Whispers

Article excerpt

The kindness you receive from strangers is such a rare thing when you're part of a family touched by special needs. So when you get it, you want to embrace it as much as you can.

The stares in the cereal aisle. The whispers from the customer behind you in line. The snickers from the table next to you.

All of these are things we all want to avoid experiencing. Especially when already dealing with a tantrum, or peeing on the restaurant floor, or a bin being dumped over. The mean comments are judgmental looks that are not only hurtful, but are impossible to ignore.

The kindness you receive from strangers is such a rare thing when you're part of a family touched by special needs. So when you get it, you want to embrace it as much as you can.

But what about when you've been going back and forth with your child for 45 minutes in the store over not getting something that isn't on the grocery list, or when a restaurant is taking too long to bring their food? Of course, you don't want to just give in and give them whatever they want. You can't just give them the candy they are requesting at the store or leave the restaurant. Although it might be easier, it is going to reinforce the behavior and it will most likely happen again because they got what they wanted. Plus, you need to live your life too. You can't continue to postpone grocery trips or never have the pleasure of eating out.

So, you don't give in. But now, a stranger comes up and tries to cheer up your child. On one hand, you are given the break and it is such a breath of fresh air to meet someone who isn't staring at you in disgust or trying to give you parenting tips. But, now, you have this perfectly nice human giving your child some of the most friendly attention you've ever experienced out in public. Even when your child is behaving perfectly fine, people still stare and make comments--because they can tell he or she is a "little" different. What do you do? Do you let them give your child positive attention, even though it may reinforce the bad behavior? Something you have been fighting over for the last 45 minutes, and now it could all go down the drain because you don't want to tell this nice stranger to please not give them any attention?

You could stop and explain it to them, but you're still juggling all of your items in the aisle and dealing with your child's behaviors. And what if they don't get it? What if they take it wrong? What if they never approach a "different" child again because of what you just said? Hopefully they won't, and they probably won't. If they took the time to stop and try to help, they probably get it to some degree. Even if they don't understand, they probably appreciate what they just learned. Your words shouldn't change the good-hearted person that they are. And it won't. But these are the things that enter our heads because we come in contact with so few accepting people. We want more people like them in our lives. Even if it means losing the battle with the child.

Even when we say we don't care what other people think, there is still that unconscious need for others to approve. Whether it's the petty high school game we've all played, or hoping a manager likes us enough to hire us, we never escape it. And we definitely can't escape it when we are in the middle of seeing our child throwing a tantrum, or a child who just had an accident in the middle of the grocery store.

Sometimes I wonder if my brother lucked out on that. I don't know if he experiences those thoughts. …

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