Public Autism Meltdowns: When People Just Don’t “Get It”

by J

As I mentioned in previous posts, we have not mentioned to many people that our son has autism. While we are no longer keeping this information so close to the vest, before we had decided to ‘go public’ only a handful of close family and friends were aware of S’s diagnosis. One of those friends is a good friend of mine who has two small children, about 18 months younger than our son. While she was aware of S’s autism, and would often listen to me vent about our struggles, I could tell that she never really ‘got it’. Most of the time that we hung out, it was in a private setting and S was usually fairly comfortable around her. Being that her children are much younger, S’s delays didn’t seem as apparent to her as they were to me. She would often say things like “don’t most kids do that?” and “all kids do those things”. She was always super supportive, but I could tell that she never really ‘got it’ .

A few weeks ago, her children celebrated their first birthday, and we were invited to the party at their house. Daddy J was a bit under the weather, so S and I decided to attend by ourselves. S has been to my friend’s house many times; however, this time it was FULL of people he didn’t know. We had not been in the door for 5 seconds before the high-pitched shrieking and screaming started. Then, the hitting and kicking and throwing of objects. Within less than 5 minutes of our arrival, we were in a full-blown autism meltdown. It was simply too much for him to handle. We had not yet disclosed S’s autism and so no one else at the house knew about S’s diagnosis. People were trying not to stare, but it was hard to not look as our son ran through the house screaming. I tried pulling S into one of the empty rooms to calm him down, but to no avail.

At this point, I had broken out in a complete sweat, had a headache and had no idea what to do. Our friend, the gracious hostess that she is, led us upstairs to her children’s room to give us some space and privacy. It took about 20 mins to a half an hour for S to regain composure. Had we not driven close to an hour to get there, I would’ve just turned back and taken S home, but I knew now was not the time to strap him in a car seat for another hour.

Eventually, we were able to join the rest of the guests downstairs. However, while the other children S’s age played blocks and with the other toys, S was obsessed with the door handle. He kept jumping on one stair for so long that people stopped trying to use it. In the end, S ended up having a pretty nice time, and actually didn’t want to leave when it was time to go.

The next night, my friend texted me to say what a great mom she thinks I am; which was certainly nice to hear after the episode at her house. After-all, I felt like ‘that mom’ with the out of control kid.

What is for sure, is my friend finally ‘got it’.