To the woman with the autistic child at Walmart…

Dear Struggling Mom,

I heard your child all over the store.  As I visited different areas of the store in search for the things on my list, I could hear him stimming.  Loudly.  I recognized it immediately.  My heart immediately went out to you even though I hadn’t seen you yet.  I knew that grocery shopping was probably not on your list of fun things to do today, let alone with your child in tow.

As I approached the checkout lanes, I saw you. You weren’t hard to find.  He was about 5 years old, sitting in the front seat of the buggy as your daughter (6 or 7?) stood next to it.  I wondered how many people were judging you thinking that your child was misbehaving as he squirmed, kicked, and yelled from his place in the buggy.  I know I once would have. Before I was a parent.  Before I was a parent of a special needs child. I wondered how many people avoided getting in that lane behind you, but I just felt like I needed to choose that lane.  I ended up behind you with one person in between us.  My heart broke as I saw the tired, worn out look on your face.  You had a buggy full of groceries, which meant you had been there a while.  I have no doubt you were ready to get out of the store and on your way home.

I looked down and saw a small tennis shoe under the buggy of the lady in front of me.  She had no kids. I looked forward at your son’s feet – yep! Missing a shoe.  I picked it up and handed it to you, and you just smiled and said thanks.

I watched as you tenderly put the shoe back on his foot.  Then, as you turned your back and he continued to kick, off it came again.  Not wanting to interfere too much, I waited to see if you caught it.  You did.  Once again, you tenderly put it back on his feet.

As you were waiting to pay, he suddenly went into an outburst getting much louder, and hitting himself in the head with his fists.  You so gently reached over and stroked his arms and spoke calmly to him.  I had tears in my eyes as I watched how you cared for him with love.  You didn’t grab him or yell at him or try to “make him behave”.  You just comforted him and tried to make him feel safe.

I saw you paying with a WIC card, and your behavior it impressed me even more.  I don’t know if you are married or a single mom, but obviously money is tight.  Money issues, and dealing with a child with special needs can take a lot out of you.  I don’t know how you felt on the inside, but on the outside, you were not taking it out on your kids.

I wanted to help.  So badly, I wanted to help.  I didn’t know what to do.  You don’t know me, so it’s not like I could offer to take your kids for the afternoon.  I couldn’t afford to buy that buggy full of groceries for you.

So, I used all I had.  My words.

I didn’t know what to say.  Everything I said in my head sounded silly.

I hoped you didn’t think I was interfering, but I had to say something, so I walked up and touched you on the shoulder and prayed for God to give me the words to speak as I said,

“Can I just tell you that you are doing an awesome job with your kids? I know it’s not the same, but I have a daughter with Asperger’s and I know it can be stressful.  The way you speak to your children and the way you have been handling him shows how much you love him.”

With tears in your eyes, you replied with “Thank you, that means so much!”.  We gave each other a knowing glance, and parted ways.

I wish I could have done more.  But the tears in your eyes told me that I had done something.

I learned from you too.  You reminded me how important it is to put our children’s needs first.  Not to worry about what the other people in the store think.  It doesn’t matter. What matters is that our kids know we love them unconditionally just as they are.

I pray that you and your family will be blessed this year!

100 thoughts on “To the woman with the autistic child at Walmart…

  1. a fellow Mommy just shared this in our Special Needs forum on PhoenixMommies… and it brought me to tears.
    Just wanted to say thank you for being you & sharing that with the world. 🙂

  2. Stacy,
    This is awesome! I have a son with ADHD. Not the same. But this could have been me. Has been me. I hate the looks from other people. I know they think I’m a bad parent. But I’m just tired. So are my daughters. I know it’s not his fault. But it does wear us down. Thanks for being so supportive!

    1. My daughter also has ADHD, and while it’s a different label, the behavior along with the stares & judgment are often the same! So many days we feel like we are a bad parent without anyone else adding to that. Hang in there! It is tiring, but it’s for a great cause!

  3. I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to talk to her and tell her good job. I have one son with Asperger’s, one son with autism, and my youngest son is starting evaluations next week. It is so frustrating to try to hurry through a store with a screaming child (or two) who is banging his head and ripping his hair out- and have strangers come up and try to discipline him or talk/touch him (which sets him off even more). No one seems to understand that my boys aren’t BAD. Sometimes I think if one more person tells him to quit being a bad boy, I will just scream. Your post really made my day. Thank you.

  4. My aunt just shared this with me 🙂 As a mother of 2 boys, one with a severe congenital heart defect, cerebral palsy, asthma among others, it just brought a flood of tears while reading…thanks so much for sharing this. God bless!

  5. I have a 14 year old boy with severe to moderate autism. It’s getting more interesting all the time to see how people react to his stimming and happy noises as he is now starting to pass me up in size. It’s ironic that he is so sweet and obedient and funny, but he has no volume control so his good noises sound bad to others. I’ve been both the giver and receiver of comments to the mom. Most of the time just a loving smile or a knowing nod is encouragement enough. I’m way past embarrassment, but I’m still not immune to anger when ignorance looks more like hatefulness towards my big good boy. On those occasions, the only thing that keeps me from lashing out in defense of my beloved son is remembering not to judge the person who seems to be judging me and him. Also, my mostly non-verbal son takes his cues from me, so if I’m happy and calm he is too. It’s a shame that most people don’t realize that his loud noises are him trying to communicate that he is having a good time. I’m sorry he is disruptive but so proud of him for how well he has learned to cope with his serious sensory processing challenges. I guess I want to thank all of you for your kind words and tell the moms of the younger kids that both you and your child will get better at so many things, even shopping. Just take it one day, or even one hour at a time, and be thankful for every little success. That unconditional love we have for our children trumps everything else!

  6. I too have a almost 4 yr old with autism. We have been there as this mom was in Wal-Mart. The screaming and stimming and receiving stares and glances but never have I ever heard any of those words from a stranger. Thank you for posting this today,brought tears to my eyes. All SO worth the fight-our children:)

  7. Though I am fairly immune to most of it at this point, one never really does get over the stares, “hairy eyeballs”, and avoidance by others when you have a special needs child. This was a very moving story — thanks for posting!

  8. This made me cry! Thanks for sharing your sweet thoughts! My little brother is autistic and we’ve had more than our share of nasty looks or awkward situations, even more so now that he is in his 20s. But that’s ok with me, because they don’t him and it’s their loss…

  9. Thank you for sharing this. As a mother of a child on the autistic spectrum, I too have received glances, glares and even words from others who do not understand. The compassion you shared with this lady will go with her for years to come. God blass you.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story, it brought tears to my eyes. I have a 6 year old daughter with autism and I have have been that mother in walmart. The stimming, sounds and behaviour are all normal to me but the stares and judgment from others is something that takes time to get use to.

  11. I have a son with ADHD and PDD-NOS and I completely understand the dirty looks and hate them with a passion. Part of me wants to ask them what their problem is but I know that won’t set a good example for my son. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but it does help to see that other people are going through the same things.

  12. As an adult who still lives with ADHD,I know I was not easy to be with as a child, my childhood was a daily struggle to not lose my temper, sit still, not say the wrong thing at the wrong time,keep my voice down, and stay in control of my behavior. I still struggle with these same things at 60 but I do have much more control than I did as a child, life teaches you how to do that.

    Thanks to all you moms out there who are helping your children get through this very difficult time in their lives. They will thank you later for helping them become the people they will grow up to be. I am writing this with tears streaming down my face thinking about what you are all experiencing now and remembering my own difficult childhood.

    Midlife Army Wife you are awesome.

  13. A friend just shared this on Facebook and I am in tears. Thank you so much for writing this. It is a great reminder to have more patience and compassion for everyone and not to be so quick to judge. Have a great day!

  14. Thank you for sharing this! My 3 year old son has high-functioning autism; and certainly everyday errands and chores can be very stressful with him (not to mention I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old too!) I have definitely received the looks and the glares but rarely words of encouragement. I have heard “What, is your kid retarded or something?” or “maybe you could control your kids if you used birth control” and worse.
    You’re right – those mean, hurtful words and glances don’t matter. I love my son and know that he is not misbehaving.
    Thank you for the words of encouragement, coming right from the heart. We are having a particularly challenging day today, and it means the world to know there are others who not only care, they completely understand.

  15. Thankyou so so much for sharing your story!
    I work with preschool children with autism. When I read your story yesterday we had just been on a fieldtrip with the kids so I had just spent time with some of the parents who had come along to spend time with their kids. I totally admire all the parents of the kids I work with. They all love their kids so much.

  16. I love this post. I never know what to say, but I send them “I work with kids like yours. I adore kids like yours. I’m on your team” sort of vibes. And I smile at them. Next time I’ll speak up!

  17. Thank you for this post, It was shared on our special needs forum of my mom’s group. I am a mom of a special needs daughter that just turned two. About 5 months ago, we were in Walmart, just me and her, and she was having a meltdown. She was screaming (and believe me, it was not as loud as it normally was) and I was doing my best to calm her down. We hurried through the store getting only what we needed and we got to the check out line. She hates waiting in line. Once we got there, the cashier looked at her, not me, and told her to shut up. My poor baby just hung her head and covered her face with her hands while crying softly all the way home. Nothing I tried to do to calm her helped. It was that day that I realized that people often have no understanding of children with special needs.

  18. I am the mother of an 8 yr old boy with Tourette Syndrome, OCD, and ADHD and this post really hit home for me. Thank you for sharing. And for reminding me that there are a few people in those crowded stores — the stores full of people with judging stares and narrowed eyes–, who know and understand our children. Hugs.

  19. I found this post through a friend of mine. She posted it on her Facebook page and after drying my eyes, I had to thank you!

    My oldest son has Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, OCD, Sensory Processing Disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc. My youngest has Childhood Apraxia of Speech and SPD as well. Public outings can be a bit overwhelming for not only them but for me as well. I have many a trip were I have left silently crying in the van on the way home.

    I just want to thank you for being so kind and for letting us know that we are not alone and compassion still exists, even if it’s in someone whom we’ve never met.


  20. I have a son with ASD & ADHD and a daughter with Bi-polar and ADHD! Walmart is the worst place to take them. It is a horrible experience and for some time I have chosen to not take them with me so that I may have a peaceful shopping trip until their therapist reminded me that as hard as it is I need to take them some of the time to teach them their social skills AND how to shop. They are older now 13 and 15 but still fuss and fight but when it is not going to be a long shopping trip I do take them and show them how to bargain shop and get the best for their money. I also send each child with a list of just a couple of items (ones that I know ahead of time what they are and price comparisons) to go and get. My older one (bi-polar) has a better comprehension of money and I send her with more of a challenge with picking out the better buy items. They seem to do well and are learning. It is EXTREMELY hard at times to remember that I have to teach them these kinds of things when sometimes all I really want is to go and get my groceries WITHOUT fighting and stares! But it is what is best for my kids that is important NOT what others think of us at Walmart! If I don’t do this now, give them the skills to survive and meld to society, there will certainly be more judgement for them in the future!

  21. I think the thing that has surprised me the most is that many comments have been made to moms I work with in settings you’d never expect: a dentist office that specializes in pediatrics (comment made by reception staff), and by people in the WIC (women, infant, children) office. I would think that those two businesses, in particular, would be more understanding.

  22. In the past few days I have realized that there may be an explanation to my nearly 4 year old daughter’s behavior, and that is how I ended up here! This was linked on a FB page I just found for sensory disorders, and I have to tell you, I have been that mom in the store so many times. In fact, just last Friday it happened as it has before. I got so many looks and all I could do was focus on comforting my daughter and smile at the onlookers. I plan on having her evaluated soon by an OT for SPD. It’s been difficult to have family members refer to her as a “terror” and look at me as if I’ve failed her in parenting. I’m just starting down this road and I know it could be a long one as far as getting her what she needs, but as her Mom I must advocate for her. Oh, what a relief it will be to finally have an explanation!

  23. That brought tears to my eyes. I was so afraid you were going to leave the Wal-mart and say nothing to her….like I might have done.
    It is also a good reminder of patience for any kid, not just those with special needs.

    Nice to meet you.

  24. This brought tears to my eyes, ive been in this situation so many times, And the rude comments that people have to say, its nice to know that there are people out there that do understand. Most of the time people say if you didn’t have so many children you could handle your ones that are out of control and misbehaving. Only if they understood what its like trying to take a child with ASD,ADHD,Disrubtive behavior disorder,and siezers into a walmart, and another child with ADHD and posibly more. what its actually like.

  25. Absolutely amazing. Truly compassionate. As I work with my oldest son (has Asperger’s) on the concept of commpassion, this will be a story I share with him. My youngest has PDD/NOS and I have Asperger’s. It’s not always easy but thanks to role models like you and this other mom, we all learn!

    Thank you for sharing this!

  26. That’s so beautiful! Brought tears to my eyes and made my day! Their are some really remarkable people out there with hearts of gold!! Love it!

  27. Thank you for this wonderful posting. As a fellow mom of a child with special needs, I know just how much what you did for that woman meant!

  28. Being a mother of a special needs son,myself, you are stacy right we need to loooooooooooooove our children unconditionnaly and place their needs first no matter what other people might think or say. We need to be strong always especially as our child goes through the school system and faces bullies and teachers we need to be their advocate and inform the system what our children are entiltled to and their limitations.We also need to keep in mind this women at walmarts and how serene she was in doing everything; love and calm is the key in raising an autistic child with siblings!!!

  29. I too have been in the same place of this woman, and been judeged by many as my son who is ADHD and has asperbers is having a bad day @ the store. I too have had money problems and still have the strenght with GOD to do the right thing and love my children no matter what. A friend sent me this on Facebook after we talked and she said I would be able to relate… wow.. do I.. thank you soo much just letting me know that I am not alone in the journey and this too shall pass. Thank you agian.

  30. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I often feel like the mom in the store and too many times people don’t understand. It’s those painful memories that trap me at home, that make me never want to venture out of our little “bubble.” Thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone to comfort another mother! It means so very much. God bless you!

  31. I came across your blog today as I was looking for some resources for a friend whose child has autism. I started to cry as I read your story as I can’t personally relate but I have a friend with a child who has a mild case of austism, a neighbor whose third grader is a high functional with autism and my cousin, whose 8 year old the same as my oldest has severe autism. They all deal with their children differently from one another, my friend is doing great has a great support system but as for my neighbor and cousin, they, too are tired. For all of those moms out there, I, too agree they do an amazing job and I never know what to say except to just be a cousin, a friend and a good neighbor and be there when they need me. Thanks for blog.

  32. As a mom of a severely Autistic teen…this made me cry. Thank you for posting this. It’s nice to know that there ARE people out there that do understand.

  33. What a beautiful heart you have, and what a gift you gave to that mom.

    If only everyone could read this.

    Thanks for reminding us that our kids are instruments of God’s grace in our lives…and
    occasionally, we get to be instruments of that grace for one another.

  34. As a grandmother of two autistic boys,I ,too,understand the looks and stares and want to educate the general public right there on the spot.I have 12 other grandchildren but these two rank so close to my heart and at my ripe old age they continue to teach me life lessons on unconditional love and patience that the general public may never ever witness in their lives.For me,personally,I could never imagine our lives without them!

  35. This was beautiful. I read this with tears in my eyes. My oldest has aspergers too
    I’ve spent many years being judged as a parent. Second guessing what I do
    And hearing comments that were offensive. We special needs parents are
    Family. We need each other. Together we are powerful and can make. Difference
    You did a wonderful thing thank you for that.

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