My family and I were out with family and friends celebrating Mother’s Day in a popular Mexican restaurant in our town. We sat down, ordered drinks and our food. The adults enjoyed conversations and most of the kids laughed, giggled and interacted with each other, except for my son, who is on the autism spectrum. For most kids on the spectrum, social situations can be overwhelming, especially if they take place in a crowded restaurant. We have learned to cope with it by providing my son with an iPad and letting him cope with the situation by playing Minecraft, where he gets to create his own quiet space. He was calm and content, interacting only when he needed to, no more no less.
The waiter came in with our food; and with the food came an extra helping of unsolicited advice. He told my son he should put the iPad down and interact with others. A thousand thoughts raced through my head all at once: “Oh no he didn’t!” “Will I go to jail if I just punched this dude in the throat?” “Daniel hold my hoops!” “Will I be banned and ruin the whole evening if I decided to use my non-Christian language on this dude?” There were many more violent thoughts and then finally: “OK chill.”
Do I explain to him how in addition to spending all day in school, he also spends 20+ hours a week with ABA therapy learning important socialization skills and other behavioral skills? How he has speech therapy, other types of therapy, classes, and doctors’ appointments up the wazoo? How most of his free time is spent playing with Legos and how he loves creating and building things? How he is also involved with a sports league for little guys like him and their siblings, so he can learn to socialize with others? How every day of his life if full of struggles and how he has to work harder than most kids his age because things are 10 times more difficult for him than others? That excuuuuuuuse me if we allow him a few moments of freedom with his preferred item so he is calm in an uncomfortable environment that can be too loud for him? That without supports he may have a meltdown that usually bothers others and we get judgy stares in our direction? So, darned if I do and darned if I don’t.
I just smiled and said he has autism and he needs it. The waiter smiled, without really understanding, and said he tells other kids to put away their devices, they listen and it’s better for them, then he walked away.
It made me remember how many years ago I told myself I would not be one of those parents who would just let their kids have a lot of TV time and just have their nose on a screen. I was a judgy person — I was like this waiter. Then boom, I had children of my own, and guess what happened? I let my kids have screen time, yes more than one hour sometimes. Yes, I know it’s bad and yes, I know the research and the studies. No, I don’t care.
My son has plenty to deal with.
So, if you are in a restaurant and see kids with their noses on their iPads, keep your thoughts to yourself. I can’t change people’s need to judge or criticize others — they will do it anyway. But I can ask you to just keep your thoughts to yourself. Yes, there are better ways to parent, I have read the books, seen the Ted-Talks and read the articles. The important thing is that for right now I am keeping these kids alive, they are kind to others, I keep trying to improve myself as a parent, they know we love them, and they love themselves. We are doing OK.
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Author: Ana Wilson