We’ve all been in that situation when “that parent” made an appearance. It could be in the supermarket, walking in the street, at the shopping centre, the community centre or the soccer field. It could even be at the school yard. Whenever “that parent” makes an appearance many of us breathe a thankful sigh of relief that we are not “that parent.”
That parent is the one is mostly silently, but sometimes not, judged as ineffective, unfit, or simply needing help. “That parent” is the one that needs to help in disciplining their kids, needs to work out how to control their kids, needs to let those kids know who is the boss.
Yes “That parent”, is quickly and harshly judged, wordlessly, without pause for thought without any sense of context, life circumstances or indeed what just might really be going on.
Try and put yourself in “that parent’s” shoes for a moment.
You dread it, but you know it has to be done. You suck it up and do it. You drive to the shops. You go in to the supermarket. You walk like you’re on knifes edge with your autistic child in tow. Up and down the aisles of the supermarket, hoping, praying, just wanting to get through this excursion to the supermarket without it happening.
You never know when or if it will happen, there are no real predictors. Sure you can identify stressors and triggers, but there are so many of those in the supermarket that it just isn’t funny. You try to focus on the task of filling the list of items you have come for, and getting the hell out of the place.
It feels as though every eye of every other shopper is on you, as though they have all witnessed and judged you for it before. You have one eye on the list and shelves and the other well and truly fixed on your child. Looking for signs. It all seems so calm. That calmness is though, a falsehood, and you know it all too well.
Suddenly it’s happening. You are now in emergency mode, the problem of course is that you don’t feel free to work this through with your child in a way that is best, that you know is successful. You can’t because you feel the judgement, the expectations the shared understandings. The pressure of how one parents, how one responds to behaviour and how one deals with it in a public place.
The problem of course is those things mean absolutely nothing of consequence when dealing with an autistic child in the middle of a meltdown in a public place.
The judgement is largely silent but oh, so cutting.
For all intents and purposes it really does look like a naughty child having a “tantrum” over not getting what they want. The judgement largely says that you shouldn’t let the child get their way, you should not give in to the behaviour.
But it isn’t this, it isn’t this at all.
It’s a very difficult thing to describe, but imagine that your fight or flight response has kicked in at such a furious force you have absolutely no ability to control your responses.
But why is the obvious question. Imagine you are walking through a situation where your senses are assaulted to such a degree you can’t hear properly, can’t smell properly, can’t place yourself effectively in the world and may be experiencing vertigo for example.
There really are infinite triggers to kick a meltdown into gear. So it’s really hard to identify specific triggers for specific people, however sensory overload is a big one. It’s easy to think that too much is made of this sensory thing, but it really is debilitating. It is disabling to the person undergoing it. You can’t describe it effectively, you can’t paint a picture of it. You just can’t it need to be experienced or simulated to have any real concept of what it’s like. Here are five exmples you can watch.
So then let’s try to re-think the “that parent” thing. Because it’s all very well for societal expectations to be present, but all they do is actually stop, layer upon that parent stress and uncertainty. A feeling of whatever I do here is going to be judged and judged harshly. “that parent” knows whatever they do they are in for it. Whatever the choice they make they are done for in the eyes of some.
Next time you see “that parent” stop a while, pause, and think now what can I do right here and now, to show that parent I don’t judge them, what can I saw to put their world at ease and allow them to help their child through this situation with the least amount of pain and trauma.
I challenge you to give it a try.