Have you ever seen a child having a tantrum and criticized their parents for it? Have you ever looked at a freakout and thought “glad that’s not MY kid?” That’s how Grace Grinnell felt at the beginning of her motherhood. Yet, when she bore her fourth child, everything changed.
At age 2, her son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and autism spectrum disorder.
The world can be overwhelming for people on the spectrum, particularly kids, and they have a tendency to lash out as a response. Suddenly, it was one of Grinnell’s kids causing all the tantrums!
When her son was 4, Grinnell took a trip to Walmart. They had just gotten back from the dentist, which her kid was surprisingly well behaved for, and the mom thought she could get a bit of shopping done before heading home.
Unfortunately, Grinnell’s son couldn’t stay calm in the checkout line. As he threw a fit, nearby parents stared disapprovingly.
“Normally if this happened I would have made a quick exit from the store and gone back another time. But I couldn’t do that today,” Grinnell wrote on The Mighty.
“My husband was picking up my daughter from camp six hours away. She had broken her foot badly, was in a non-weight bearing cast with crutches, and the cast was not waterproof. The one thing my daughter really wanted to do the minute she got home was shower, and it was my job to get the supplies. I needed to get her a chair that could fit in our shower and plastic and tape to cover the cast.”
Grinnell’s little boy screamed and flailed around as she attempted to make it back to her car.
At one point, his shoe came off but Grinnell was preoccupied with getting him in his car seat, so she let it sit in the middle of the road.
Grinnell tried to calm him down but he just kept screaming and resisting all attempts to get him buckled up. Grinnell was clearly in over her head here and, to make matters worse, her minivan door was open, so everyone in the parking lot could see her struggle.
“That’s when I saw this women coming towards me from across the parking lot,” Grinnell said.
“I was sure she was going to tell me she had called the police or at least tell me what a horrible mom I was.”
Yet, the woman (named Melissa) wasn’t looking to criticize at all, she was looking to help. The pair of women worked together to get Grinnell’s son buckled into his car seat. It took all of 5 minutes. During this time Melissa asked Grinnell if her son was on the spectrum. She said “Yes.”
Turns out that she had a good reason to ask: she was the mother of autistic boys herself. As such, she had a hunch that Grinnell’s son was autistic and felt compelled to defend her from rude onlookers.
For instance, one man reportedly said, “What that kid needs is a good spanking,” to which Melissa responded, “ You have no right to judge them.
“That boy could have issues you don’t know about.”
"It’s like I’m spinning out of control — no ground, no air, no sky, just me and fear and rage and desperation."
Posted by Autism on The Mighty on Thursday, August 4, 2016
She didn’t just stop when the boy was in his car seat though. Melissa had spoken to her husband beforehand, letting him know to wait for her as she assisted Grinnell.
She helped her put her groceries in the trunk and grab the boy’s tossed shoe. Before she left, she made sure to give Grinnell her phone number, in case she ever wanted their kids to hang out together. Grinnell put her in the phone as “Melissa-Walmart.”
A few weeks later, Grinnell took Melissa up on her offer and they met at a playground with their kids.
“[I] laughed as I told her I’d still be in the Walmart parking lot if she hadn’t come over to help me,” Grinnell said. “Her kindness that summer day has stayed with me.”
It’s been six years since that incident, yet Grinnell will always remember that encounter and the lessons Melissa taught her about life.
“I learned that for all the hurtful looks and comments I would get over the years, there were also people out there who understood the challenges we faced,” Grinnell said.
“For the times I saw other parents with a child melting down and I just looked the other way, I could do better. I too could ask if they needed help.
“Empathy and compassion can go a long way for everyone because you just never know what someone is going through till you have walked in their shoes—especially the shoes that end up in the middle of the road.”