Opinion | 3 December 2014

The starers, the nosy, the plain rude

Your child is upset; maybe they missed their nap, maybe they just wanted to keep watching Peppa Pig or maybe you refused to add those lusted after treats to the trolley.

Tears flow, screams abound. Maybe they’ve thrown themselves to the floor, arching their back, completely oblivious to the world around them, overwhelmed in that moment.

Another shopper passes you. An eyebrow is raised, a look is given. If you’re lucky, they keep their mouth closed, if you’re not, they’ll pass on their judgement through their words as well as their face.

As parents, we’ve probably all got a story similar to tell. But where our story changes, is that we still have moments like this.

Meet my daughter…

My daughter is now nine. She’s tall for her age, blond, lanky and (in my biased mothers opinion) she’s a lovely young girl. When her world is aligned, she could probably pass for any other bright bubbly child. With one small difference, she has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So when her world is toppled slightly off course so is she. Her reaction to this can change depending on immeasurable variants and almost always unpredictably.

Sometimes she’ll stop making eye contact and retreat inwards. Sometimes she’ll flap her hands or chew her clothes. Sometimes she’ll repeat the same word, over and over again, trying to find a sense of repetition and calm. Sometimes she’ll arch her back and scream resembling a toddler a third of her age.

Some people pass her off as quirky, look politely away and carry on with their day. Others stop and offer to help, with kindness and understanding in their eyes. We love those people.

Others seem personally offended by her behavior. Their expectations haven’t been met and they feel justified in expressing an opinion. “What is this big child, this almost a teenager, doing behaving like that? Why won’t that mother simply pull her into line? She’s so naughty!”

Yes, these questions have been asked more than once and often in front of my daughter. I wish I was joking.

How to deal with the starers

My first instinct is to protect her, take her away from those who stare, those who point and whisper. But there have been moments when I haven’t been able to help myself by responding and trying to educate, or at least claw back some dignity for my child.

Here are a few of my tips for those situations.

• It’s not about you. Or your child. It’s absolutely about the other person, their lack of knowledge or simple ignorance, as hard as this is to remember in the moment. You’re not a bad parent, nor is your child a bad kid. However, the other person could probably do with a lesson in manners.

• It’s ok to walk away. Some days, as a carer, I feel obliged to double as an advocate and educator. There is undoubtedly a place for this. But it’s also ok to just walk away and give yourself and your child a break. You don’t need to justify your or your child’s behaviours to strangers.

• Stand your ground. Perhaps conversely to the point above, never feel pressured to move on if you don’t think that’s the best thing for your child. Sometimes they need to be challenged by being in different situations and with this comes some temporary upset. If you feel you can manage it and it’s the right thing to do, don’t let the behaviour of others influence your decision.

• An opportunity to educate. If you’re up to it you can view the moment as a chance to educate. I have a few well-practiced lines that I throw out, I know others have small cards they hand over. Some people are just jerks and won’t be receptive to this. But for others, who knows, maybe next time they’ll be the ones to stop and offer help.

What tips do you have for dealing with the starers, the nosy or the plain rude?

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