October 18, 2010

It’s a Shame

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , at 12:15 pm by autismmommytherapist

“No Justin, don’t touch!” I yell, perhaps a little more loudly than I intended, but strongly enough that my son heeds my instruction. I watch him as he leans forward in his stroller and replaces the walkie-talkie he’s grabbed from its holster, because unless he’s completely caught in the clutches of OCD, he always complies with my requests. I see a look of slight relief on the face of the teen-age girl to my right guarding the entrance to the beach, and look up to my left to meet the gaze of a woman who is staring straight at me with a look of intensity, and a trace of what I quickly register as slight disdain. She is so focused that at first I think I must know her and she simply doesn’t like me, which is absolutely within the realm of possibility, but as I study her features further I realize she is a stranger to me. I then think she might know Justin, but as she continues to stare and makes no move toward acknowledging him, I realize she doesn’t recognize him either. She, in fact, is simply reacting to my firmly delivered command to my child, of which she clearly does not approve.

Here we go. Face-to-face with “Judgy Lady”.

I decide to ignore her, as I’m really not in the mood for a lecture, what with the 100 degree heat (a slight exaggeration) and the fact that my collective lack of “Kim time” on this late August day has made me slightly crabby (an accurate representation). I turn away from her, and search for the dollar bills I’ve crammed into the side pocket of the stroller. Since I’ve broken eye contact with her I hope she’ll get the hint, pay up her extortionist public beach fee and go away, but I am to have no such luck. She has positioned herself so that I have to look at her when I pay the life guard, and I realize there’s no getting out of this. I offer up my money, our eyes meet again, and with a look of either constipation or righteous indignation, I’m not certain which, my new friend opens her mouth and says “You REALLY told him, didn’t you?” then looks down at my son with a smile, as if to say, “don’t worry, I won’t let mean mommy hurt you”.


I have multiple options here. I can ignore her in true ABA fashion, decline to reinforce her bad choice of butting into my life, complete my transaction, and descend the stairs to the beach with Justin in tow with nary a glance behind me. I can don my autism ambassador suit and explain to her that speaking to him firmly is this pretty teen’s best chance of not watching a several hundred-dollar  souped-up communication device being hurled off the boardwalk into a sand dune, never to be seen again. I can also tell her to shut up and mind her own business.

The latter option is so extremely, overwhelmingly tempting.

But I don’t have time to choose, because at that moment Justin decides to let out a string of vowel sounds coupled with his almost constant companion, his rhythmic dance of rocking to and fro, and as I glance back at Miss Wonderful I see her entire face change, and literally watch her take a half step backwards. She then looks at me quickly with embarrassment, thrusts her beach fee into the girl’s outstretched hand, and scuttles down the rickety stairs to the sand. It’s over so quickly it takes me a moment to place the emotion that crossed her face  when she regarded me after Justin made his vocal debut, but all too soon I identify the look.

It was pity.

I realize she had no idea Justin was disabled when she made her commentary, although a seven-year-old boy in a stroller at the Jersey shore should probably have been a dead giveaway. No, initially she just felt compelled to let me know that clearly my selection of words, or perhaps my tone of voice towards my son, were out-of-order here, and that truly I should rethink my parenting choices. As soon as Justin “spoke” she knew she was outside of the realm of “normal”, and understood that she’d just dissed the mom of a child with special needs, one who might actually know what she’s doing. As I analyze her reactions I find I can deal with her embarrassment. After all, she should feel badly about criticizing a mom, particularly one she doesn’t know, one who is clearly not soliciting her opinion on any parenting decisions whatsoever.

But I’m enraged at the pity.

I want to run after her and tell her that this entire “conversation” should not have taken place because she doesn’t know my life, I don’t know hers, and we should all keep our judgments to ourselves. I want to shout at her that she should have kept her mouth shut not because my son is different, and she’s just picked on his tired mom, but because as women we need to build each other up, not tear each other down. I want to shake her (just a little bit) and admonish her not to feel sorry for me, that he is my beautiful boy, and we love each other, and most days, it’s enough.

But I do none of that, because leaving Justin up here on the boardwalk alone is annoyingly illegal these days, and because I know it would be a waste of time to confront her. Instead, I slide him over to the railing, affix our trusty combination lock to the stroller, and release the straps keeping my boy safely inside it. He bounds to the top of the stairs, and just for kicks, because this will be the most exciting thing that happens to me all day, I scan the shoreline for Madame Annoying, and actually locate her at water’s edge. I make a conscious choice to steer Justin in the other direction, and another choice to let it all go, move on from my righteous indignation that can do nothing more than steal precious moments away from me and my son. Our feet sink into soft sand, we head toward the surf, and I hurl one last thought up to the universe, purging my irritation as we move forward.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t come near me until you do.


  1. LZ said,

    I have been running into points of view lately that frustrate and scare me, and I am glad you picked today to write about this. I have been watching people judge the behavior of a boy that is not my own, but over whom I feel protective and defenseive as I know he struggles with issues similar to my son. I also know that in 7 years, my son could be in his shoes, and I hear people actually wishing this child harm to “teach him a lesson,” and calling him a “jail statistic in the making.” I have tried to steer these people into a different way of thinking, pointing out that he has made enormous strides in the time we have known him, and wondering if there isn’t some reason that he is having these struggles…pointing out that maybe he needs extra guidance, instead of judgment. I am not at liberty to share what I know about the boy, and it leaves me frustrated to tears because these people simply refuse to see anything other than that this child acts out. The foul things that come out of people’s mouths are devastating and disheartening, and they make me wonder what kind of a life L will truly have for being who he is. It makes me wonder what the people around me think, but don’t dare say to me.

  2. Jennifer Scott said,

    Did I ever tell you about the time the time I told a lady to back off on the judgement in line at Costco because my son had autism, when actually I didn’t know that he did? Ah judgement. I am never sure if it was my subconscious speaking or that I just wanted to make her feel like a shit. Good times lol.

    I am so glad you managed to head the other direction. Hard stuff to let go of, that bitter bile of judgement. Give yours sons a hug. You deserve all the love, and a glass of wine might not go amiss either.

    And I am totally with you on the annoyingly illegal part. What’s up with that?! Big Hugs from your new friend in Forest Grove,
    ~Jenn Scott

    • This made me laugh! I would have done the same exact thing back in the day if I hadn’t been so chicken that I’d jinx myself and make it true. Good for you, maybe she’ll think next time!

      Thanks, and I agree, it’s so irritating to actually have to WATCH THEM all the time…

  3. Cindy said,

    You are clearly so much more evolved than I which is why you continue to be in the upper top 10 ten of people I respect the most.

  4. misifusa said,

    Good for you…love your thoughts…yes, build eachother up w/love & understanding! And keep your opinions to yourself unless you are truly helping or asked to help! It’s a shame that she misunderstood. I am proud of you Kim, in so many ways…Justin and Zach are so blessed to have such an incredible Mommy! xo

  5. Kathy M said,

    There’s nothing you can do about people like that. Ignore them. And know how loved and supported you and your boys are!

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