Taking Your Autistic Child Out To Meet The Public

Recently a twitter user @ChrisPbacon286 was in line for a ride at an amusement park when his child proceeded to have a meltdown. He mentioned how some other guy said (loud enough to be heard) “that brat needs his ass whooped”.

Had it of been me there, I’d have replied “Yes, because beating on a child with a disability would make you so much better.” but it wasn’t me and as was discussed, it likely wouldn’t have changed the rude guy’s opinion much. Sadly, idiots are idiots, period.

However, it did remind me of a similar situation that happened to my wife. I couldn’t be there with her but her sister was and they ran into an idiot as well.

I asked her to write it up for me to share with you. She’s a tad embarrassed since she’s not a writer but she’s happy to share, since it’s an important story.

A few months ago my sister and I decided to take the kids out to dinner. She has a daughter (11 years old at the time) and I had my two boys (Cameron who was 4 years old at the time and Tyler who was 2 years old). We went to a local family restaurant that serves a wonderful buffet and offers gluten free pasta for Cameron! It’s one of our favourite places to eat. When we arrived they told us they removed the “children’s” area (a place with booths near a toy area for the kids to play and make noise away from the other diners). So we were seated at a large booth in the main dining area. At the time there was nobody seated behind us.

My niece decided to leave the booth and Cameron wanted to go with her but since I was in his way, he needed to find another way out. So he climbed the back of the booth to try to get out of the booth behind us. I quickly took him out and reprimanded him, told him how inappropriate that was and sat him back into the booth. At the same time the waitress was about to seat someone at the booth Cameron was trying to climb into. I apologized to the couple about to sit down and said “I’m sorry about that.” The man turned to me and said “It wouldn’t happen if you disciplined your kids”.

Now I just need to say that I am a VERY non-confrontational person. I never stick up for myself unless it’s to someone I know very well. I don’t know if it’s mommy instinct or mommy guts or what it was but I stood tall and told this man that my children are VERY well behaved and disciplined and that he should have patience especially when dealing with a child with a disability. He started cussing and got angry and told me to shut the F*&# up.

That is when I sat down and left him alone. Not to back down but because I don’t want to subject my children to any negative behaviours like that. I want to teach them that it’s ok to walk away and not fuel a fire that is already out of control.

My sister had other ideas. She is my polar opposite. She stood up and talked him up and down and they were both causing a scene. This guy’s girlfriend was telling him to calm down and it was clear that this was a usual thing for him and he was just looking for a fight. So finally I talked my sister into sitting down and we finished our meals. The rude guy and his girlfriend left the restaurant without paying their bill.

I was frightened for us, afraid of how much my son could understand and feel, embarrassed for causing a scene and just upset at the whole situation. We paid our bill and apologized to the owner (who we have come to know from our many visits to the restaurant) on our way out.

A man from another table came over to us and said he saw it all and was sorry we had to deal with that. He thanked me for handling it so well and was really pleasant towards the kids. It was nice to have someone say that it was ok and not our fault, but it didn’t make it better. It had happened.

As a parent I don’t even know what the right thing is to do in a situation like that. It could have been ANY kid that was getting restless waiting for his food in a booth. But it happened to me and my autistic boy. But I’m proud of Cameron. He didn’t understand the boundaries of the booth, but once I pointed it out and explained it to him, he never attempted it again. He sat nicely and waited. He learned and listened. I can’t say that about the grown man who attacked us acting out like a toddler in a tantrum.

It took us a long time to decide to eat out again and since we’re extremely limited as to where we can eat out with Cameron (in our town there’s only this one restaurant that offers gluten free options) it made the choice even harder. But we did go back. And when we got there we were greeted by the owner. So many thoughts went through my head when we saw him walking towards us. Fear and embarrassment were the big feelings that I felt. Those few seconds it took for him to reach us seemed like forever. I’m sure my face was red too. But he stood there and said “We’ve opened a new children’s section at the back with safer and cleaner play equipment.” Oy!! So of course the first thing I thought was that they added it because of us. But he went on to say “Do not feel like you have to eat back there. You are welcome anywhere in my restaurant. We know what happened and it was not your fault and we love having you here”. We decided to eat in the children’s section anyway because let’s face it, the kids like it!

I think it’s important to remember that one incident shouldn’t stop you from trying again. That one comment or one person doesn’t make or break what you do every day with your children. A family restaurant is for families of all shapes and sizes and you are welcome there. So don’t let what other people think stop you. We almost let it stop us and we’re so glad we decided to get back out there. How can we prepare Cameron for the real world if we don’t let him experience it with us when we can keep him safe.

Just a quick update, I was just reminded of another incident that just happened, where a man literally punched another man in the neck because he felt so upset about being bothered while eating… at a restaurant, the man punched the father of an Autistic boy because that boy was “too loud”.

You can see an update on this story here: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/palm-beach/fl-restaurant-rage-autism-20100809,0,6084633.story

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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One Response to Taking Your Autistic Child Out To Meet The Public

  1. Rach March 1, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    Thanks Duncan. That was very insightful to read.

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