Florescent lights, squeaky shopping carts, noisy people, long lines, crowded isles, crying babies, loud announcements…that’s right, I’m talking about the Supermarket Experience. Even a short trip to the supermarket can cause the average person’s blood pressure to rise, but what about a person who has a Sensory Disorder? What about a person with Autism?
Grocery shopping is absolutely one of the very hardest things to do (for us) with an Autistic child. In fact, we are currently at a point in our lives were we have stopped trying it all together. I can’t tell you the last time we took Ezra to the grocery store. Well, there was that one time a few weeks ago but we literally set one foot in the door and he began to scream and cry and we walked straight back out (That doesn’t really count, right?) I cannot begin to image what the store is like for my little boy. What I do know is that it is obviously so very overwhelming to him that he sometimes must cover his ears, cry, scream, rock his head from side to side, and he spits everywhere (a very common reaction for Autistic kids-a way to release frustration-as he has no way to communicate what he is feeling).
I do not want this post to become Nichole’s “Supermarket Sob Story”. That is not my intent. My hope is to offer some insight into the world of our special needs family and what it is like to venture into public places.
I have some numbers for you. One in fifty. That is 1 in 50 people. In March of 2013 the CDC released new statistics stating that one in fifty kids in America have Autism.
Just to give some perspective, based on this statistic, this means…
-When you are out to eat- there is probably at least one person with Autism eating at the same place as you.
- You probably have at least one person living with Autism near your home.
-If you have kids, they have several children who have Autism in their school.
-And yes, if you go grocery shopping, there are probably a few people in the supermarket who have Autism as well.
I hope you understand that for every family like ours that is venturing into town with an Autistic child, there was a lot of preparation, apprehension, and a lot of prayers that went in to it.
Honestly, what has been one of the hardest things is not necessarily my child’s reaction to public places, but the reaction of other people in those public places to my child.
We have received dirty looks, snide comments, and ugly stares. We have received comments such as “You should really learn to discipline your child” and overheard “Did you see that kid over there? He is out-of-control.” Ouch!
Then, there was that one day. The day that caused me to want to take my little family and go into hibernation for a few years… I had just about completed my shopping. It hadn’t been a trip of ease but we had survived thus far and Ezra had just about decided that he had had enough-I imagine he had reached a point of being severely over sensitized. He began to spit (not just a little shower of spit…more like a torrential downpour). A lady wheeled her cart straight over to mine and declared “Did you realize that your child is spitting? Do you know how unsanitary that is?”
I lost it. I wish I could tell you that I remained composed and gave a very godly answer with a sweet explanation for why my child was infecting the store with his “unsanitary” saliva. I am used to giving explanations by now. I am not generally one to fly off the handle. BUT, this was my response…
“Yes, I do see that my child is spitting and WE LIKE IT!” Then, I turned my cart –with spitting child in tow- and walked as fast as I could to the checkout counter. We. Were. Done.
“We like it”? What on earth does that mean? Have Mercy, Lord!
Ladies and Gentlemen, one in fifty. 1 in 50. Families like ours are everywhere. Precious children just like my little boy are everywhere. The next time you see a child acting out in public or having a complete meltdown, it is very possible that they need a good ol’ fashioned spanking OR it is very possible that they could have something else going on altogether. Please don’t judge. Please don’t stare. And for heaven’s sake, don’t offer up criticism and rude remarks.
Let me tell you, there have been a few precious souls that have come along side of us while in public and have been such an encouragement. I would love to tell you about the lady who took a rag out of her own purse to help clean up the detergent that was running down the front of my shirt when Ezra knocked the entire bottle off of the shelf. I would love to tell you about the lady who helped me bag up my groceries at the checkout counter so that I could get out of the door a little quicker while my sweet baby was having a meltdown. I would love to tell you about the store manager at one of our local Christian bookstores that was sure to tell me that my child was “always welcome there any time” even after my child had screamed just about the entire time while I was there to pick up my book order. Thank you Lord, for these precious people!
Please note that not EVERY venture in to town is a complete disaster. We steer clear of grocery shopping right now but we have been able to successfully go out to eat as a family at Ezra’s favorite restaurants and will occasionally attempt a small store every once in a while. These successes may look different than the average dinning family, but they are huge for us and we are thankful for these times.
When we do get brave and make an effort to go in to public places, I am so thankful for those who do not look at us with scornful looks. I am so thankful for those who smile or offer up words of encouragement. You can make such a huge impact on a mom like me and a family like ours with just a little bit of compassion and understanding.
Would you please be one of those people? One of those people who are able to see beyond what is considered “normal”? One of those people who are intentional about building others up?
It would make such a difference to people like us. It would make such a difference to the 1 in 50 and their families.
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11