My 11 year old son Ryan has ASD. When he was younger, things were a lot harder. We’d usually hit a spot during the day when he’d turn into the Tazmanian Devil if something didn't go his way, and it would take most of the day to recover from that (for both of us). As I look back, I feel grateful that The Taz doesn't show up as much as he use to and most days are good days.
However, on the morning of Ryan’s 11th birthday, we were visited by the Taz at Dunkin' Donuts because they were out of Ryan’s favorite drink. It was a bad morning. I was trying to quickly remind Ryan about all of the coping skills he’s learned while he defiantly body surfed on the table and yelled out “YOU KNOW THAT’S THE ONLY DRINK I LIKE HERE! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, MOM! I NEED MY DRINK!” We were getting all kinds of stares and I saw a few people shake their heads in disapproval because I knew we looked like a spoiled brat and a mother who had lost control. After a while, I physically dragged Ryan out of the store and wondered for the millionth time why we couldn't just do a simple task that others probably take for granted.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, a man who had been in the store pulled up next to me and motioned for me to put my window down. I could feel my blood pressure rise. Against my better judgment, I put my window down. I was ready to hear this man tell me that I was a bad parent, and that Ryan was spoiled and that parents like me were what was wrong with this world. I was ready to take my anger out on this guy. I was going to let him have it. I was going to yell that I’ve been given more than I can handle and he should mind his own business and be grateful he can enter and exit a store without causing a scene. Oh, I was ready. Bring it, Mister.
Instead, the man said “Hey. It looks like you were having a hard time earlier and I just wanted to say hang in there.” I almost couldn’t process his sentence. Hard time. Hang in there. “Well, he has Autism, so …”, I stammered. This kind stranger answered with “Ah, my nephew does too. It’s really hard on my brother. Hang in there.” Hang in there. I couldn’t believe it. I wondered how many other people in the store weren’t judging, but were maybe feeling bad for us and wondering how they could help.
The man pulled away and I looked at Ryan and said “Let’s try this again” and we went back in. He used his coping skills to settle on water for his drink and thanks to the kindness of a stranger, Ryan and I had a nice morning.
By Mary-Ellen Kramer
By Mary-Ellen Kramer