Autism rates are at all time highs and the chances of encountering a child with autism at your local store is extremely high. I admit, while I never actually said anything out loud, in the past if I saw a child having a tantrum, I was quick to judge. That is until I had a child diagnosed with autism myself.
Parents with children with autism—and yes, I say children rather than child, as many parents are coping with more than one child diagnosed with autism—like you, also need to go out and do their chores, such as shopping. This task is difficult at the best of times with a typical child. I've seen some very hurtful comments on the internet, such as: "It's just an excuse for bad behavior." Let me explain why these tantrums are difficult to deal with.
A child with autism likely does not have speech and, therefore, cannot always tell you what he/she wants. As well, a parent can't explain in words what is acceptable and what is not. Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn't speak your language? After a while, it becomes very frustrating.
Senses for children with autism are exasperated, which means lighting and noises can be troublesome. Try putting on your tv, your stereo, the vacuum cleaner, and all the lights in your home, and then carry on a converstation with someone. It's enough to give anyone a headache!
Regitity is a common trait with persons living with autism. Certain topics can saturate their thoughts and they cannot get it out of their minds. My son is infatuated with Disney movies and can spot anything Disney aisles away. He may run away from me to gain access to what it is that he is wanting, and at times I have my seven-month-old in tow, running after him. He doesn't understand that everything in the store must be purchased, and wants to walk out of the store with a $30 DVD every time I go shopping at our local store!
Repetition is also a common trait. It can be as simple as not taking the same route through the store that throws him off. Sometimes situations come up that prevent us from taking that route and he will literally sit on the floor refusing to move further until we go our regular route.
A parent of a child with autism is under a great deal of stress. Divorce rates are high, resources are low, and many parents are left with a large financial burden to deal with escalating costs of care. Parents are having to take on roles as advocates to get the resources that they need, as well as sometimes work multiple jobs to pay for the costs of raising a child with autism. Medicare does not cover expenses related to treatment and while there is some funding available, parents have to jump through hoops to obtain it and it certainly doesn't come close to covering the costs of raising a child with autism.
Put the most stable of people in the situation above and you can see why something like shopping is a challenge. So, the next time you are in your local grocery store—don't judge, you could be witnessing a parent trying to deal with a child with autism. Smile, be courteous, and please don't feel sorry for us. We don't need pity, just a little compassion and understanding!