"Geez, lady, learn to control your kid!"
Oh, those rude, ignorant comments you always get from strangers whenever you take your autistic kiddo out in public. We've all been there.
Whether your tendency is to react with anger, embarrassment or tears, who wouldn't like to get to a place where those comments don't bother you one bit?
I've got a two-step process that can help you achieve that. It requires a healthy dose of empathy and the willingness to do a little deep diving into some painful experiences in your past, but the results are totally worth it.
1. Rude comments have absolutely nothing to do with you.
What comes out of peoples' mouths (yours included) is a reflection of how they feel about themselves on the inside. Judgmental people are telling the world they have a million faults. Intolerant people are telling the world how much they hate themselves. Sarcastic people or those who say something mean followed by, "just kidding," are telling the world they are passive aggressive and don't have the guts to say what they really think.
When someone says something mean about your kid or your parenting skills, what they're really doing is trying to convince themselves that they are a good parent. Chances are, that grumpy old man at the store who gave you a dirty look because your child let loose an autism shriek hasn't spoken to his kids in months. Maybe even years. It's Psychology 101 - we look for fault in others in an attempt to feel better about ourselves.
Look, everyone has experienced pain and trauma that has left lasting scars. Everyone is dealing with their own demons. The best response to people who are rude in public is to ignore them completely or give them a genuine smile, perhaps a quick apology like, "I'm sorry he startled you," and continue on your merry way.
Responding with anger, which most people tend to do (or want to do), will only make the rude person feel even worse about themselves, and they will in turn take that new pain out on someone else. You've only perpetuated a cycle of negativity in the world.
More importantly, your angry response will make you feel like shit because now you're in a bad mood. It will also affect your child, because kids with autism are little emotional sponges. If mom or dad is upset, they're upset. Then they'll act out because their upset, and you'll feel like a bad parent.
Remember, comments from complete strangers NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. This applies to friends and family members, too. It's all about them, a little peek into their injured souls. A little kindness, then a quick refocus on your family, is the way to go.
2. Find out why the opinions of others affect you emotionally
Before you can easily toss aside a stare or rude comment, you need to figure out why you even care what others think in the first place. I mean really, who gives a shit what a complete stranger thinks about you and your family? They don't know you. You'll never see them again. Why in the world would that even bother you?
The answer is because they are triggering a painful feeling you've been carrying around for most of your life. Maybe when you were a kid you got the message that nothing you do is ever good enough. Or perhaps your parents were very sensitive to what other people thought of their parenting skills and whenever you misbehaved in public, you were punished excessively.
Maybe you secretly think your child's autism is your fault and when people notice it, you feel ashamed. (I have a science-y cure for that, by the way)
Everybody has experienced trauma and been taught limiting beliefs about themselves. It's a part of being human. Like it or not, nearly all parents pass along the negative feelings they have about themselves and the fears they have about the world on to their children. It takes constant work to become aware of these things and break the cycle.
If you'd like some help diving into your triggers and figuring out what's holding you back, join my autism parent support group, The Cabana. Each month you'll receive a new course designed to address the unique emotional needs of autism parents. Some months, the course focuses on how to make autism caregiving easier and more effective so you have the time to work on yourself.
Learn more about The Cabana at the link below.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!