Some of the looks we get:
- "Why is your child still in diapers?"
- "Why is your child screaming and writhing and not listening to you at all?"
- "Why is your child talking nonsense and making weird sounds so loudly?"
- "Why isn't your child acknowledging my child?"
- "Why won't your child respond to me?"
- "Why is your child lying in the middle of the floor?"
- "Why is your child making that high-pitched screech?"
- "What is wrong with your child?"
There we are, in the middle of a crowded cafe. Should've known better; C often has a hard time in group situations unless there is a quiet corner or other safe spot to which he can retreat. Still, we've been housebound for days because of Hurricane Sandy, and it seemed like a good idea to try to get out for a bit.
Wrong. It wasn't pretty. So, we pack it in before we even get our food or coffee and carry a still-screaming (and hitting/kicking) preschooler back home. Once home, however, there's our little guy again. Bright-eyed, all smiles, humming his favorite song... peaceful and happy in our quiet apartment. And there we are, bedraggled and a little heartbroken... and feeling very judged.
I don't fault people for their stares. They don't know what's going on. They don't know why our son has suddenly and inexplicably gone off the rails, why his tantrums are so... weird, or why we look like we're on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They don't know that this isn't a normal toddler meltdown because it carries the emotional freight of fear and anxiety that Every Day Will Be Like This Forever.
In short, they don't know it's autism.
I imagine that once we've gone, they go back to their pleasant parental chatter while their little ones return to their joyful play. Maybe they think we're terrible parents. Maybe they know something is different and think, I'm glad that's not me. Or maybe they don't really care.
All I know is that in the moment, when we're struggling to regain some semblance of normalcy, their looks bear down on us. I want to ask them to look away, to give us our moment, to leave us alone.
That's completely unreasonable, I know. It's not their fault; they're not doing anything wrong.
But neither is my son.