Home > Family, Los Angeles, Love, Parenting > Couple Jerkface, meet Autistic Child’s Mom

Couple Jerkface, meet Autistic Child’s Mom

My husband went out with some of our friends last night.

This morning, he told me a story about the evening that I must share here. I asked him to retell it in shorter form so I could transcribe. Here it is:

“Long story short, there was a mom whose kid had been–for lack of a better word–barking off and on for an hour.

“My table just tuned them out, ’cause, y’know, we’re all used to kids. I think I looked once.

“After about an hour of sitting there, as there were already wrapped up and about to leave the table, an obnoxious couple–we’ll call them Couple Jerkface–decided to comment. And by comment, I mean the wife looked at the table, looked at the kid, and mockingly yelled, ‘Aaaaaaaaaaah! Aaaaah! That’s enough!'”

“She didn’t!” I exclaimed in horror when he first recounted the incident.

“At which point, the autistic kid’s mom–’cause the kid was clearly autistic–proceeded to rip the lady a new one.

“‘How dare you yell at my child! Who are you to yell at anybody’s kid? My child is autistic. He has problems. He has as much a right as anybody else to be here without being yelled at!’

“At which point, Mrs. Jerkface got defensive. ‘I didn’t know he was autistic, but we’ve been listening to that for an hour!’

“‘You could’ve asked to move. You could’ve politlely said something to me. You could’ve done anything else, but you don’t yell at a child! How dare you!’

“Mind you, I’m cleaning this up,” my husband pauses to explain. “Because this was not a G-rated conversation in a G-rated place.”

I can confirm there are many fewer expletives in this shorter telling than the original one.

“At this point, Mr. Jerkface muttered something, which caused the autistic child’s mom to respond in kind. At which point, Mr. Jerkface said something else.

“The autistic kid’s dad at this point chimed in. His voice was calm, quiet, but we could hear it at our table. ‘If you say another word, I will beat your ass.’

“At which point, Mr. Jerkface–rightly–quieted down.

“However, the autistic kid’s mom was … ballistic? Angry? Furious? Still on fire? She proceeded to tell how much disdain she had for California, our wineries, our sushi-eating, and how much she missed New York with its nicer, politer people. And, oh! How she was ready to leave California.

“Again, this is a cleaned up version,” he reminds me.

“She exclaimed she hoped her husband would get transferred back.

“At this point, my party was already walking away, having paid our check during all of this.

“My friend Dave, who’s got his teaching credential, said, ‘I assumed he was autistic from the get-go. I tuned it out.’

“I assumed it was an overstimulated kid, ’cause having a fifteen-month-old kid who’s starting to talk, it sounds pretty much the same. Either way, Mrs. Jerkface was wrong.

“The Couple Jerkface were done!” he concludes in perplexity. “They should have just left.”

I understood very little about autism a few years ago, and less about parenting an autistic child. Reading blogs (such as Finding Cooper’s Voice and Three Kids and I) has helped me understand–a little–some of the challenges of raising autistic children, and how those challenges ripple out to all aspects of life. Parental relationships suffer as parents have to exhaust time, resources and money to learn to help guide their children through an unhelpful system that doesn’t make it easy, and increasingly cuts resources that helped make it at least a little easier before. Work suffers as parents have to set aside huge chunks of time to keep their kids moving toward safety and support. Relationships with friends suffer as the constraints of just trying to figure out the essentials are exhausting.

I have learned that there is joy, and tenderness, and great love, and that no two autistic children are the same. Please don’t take my paragraph above to treat all as the same, because no two people are ever the same. This is part of the burden–and sometimes the joy–of trying to figure out the right way to guide one’s own child through early years and crowds of people often unfriendly to difference.

I wish I had a chance to talk with the Couple Jerkface. I wish I could ask, “You think you have it hard, having to listen to noises you don’t like for an hour? Do you really think the solution is to confine, constrain and judge parents who are trying to get by? To limit them from public places because it’s easier for you, though it increases the strain on them? Do you really, truly, in your heart believe that’s the right solution? To burden the overburdened to keep your life a little quieter?”

I wish I could have asked the child’s mom if I could lend a hand. And most of all, I wish her angry words could be bottled up and shared with anyone who’s about to get vocally indignant that they have to briefly “put up with” someone else’s child, autistic or not, in their spare time.

You think that’s hard, Mrs. Jerkface? Try finding a little peace and quiet in a world that wants you to suffer silently and alone, somewhere where it doesn’t have to deal with–or help ease–the pains of your struggle.

That’s hard. That is finger-wringing, back-breaking hard.

We all could benefit showing each other a little more patience and grace, while understanding patience and grace will sometimes have been long since exhausted for the overwhelmed and undersupported.

Maybe seeing this “overwhelmed and undersupported” live is what it will take to understand. But I hope reading it might help someone, somewhere withhold judgmental words for parent or child just trying to make a little peace amidst the struggle.

Have you witnessed unkindness toward someone struggling? Have you witnessed empathy? How did you respond? How do you wish you had responded?

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  1. June 6, 2015 at 9:35 am

    this isnt all that closely along the same lines, but I was looking up hiking trails that are ok for kids/strollers. One of the reviews for a hike was along the lines “This is a great hike except to many parents bring they’re kids, I wish I could just go enjoy nature without seeing/hearing kids.” I think there was more then that, but basically they didn’t think people should take they’re kids hiking. I love hiking and I dont want to stop just because I have kids. My kids love it. My eldest often asks to go to the waterfalls which is a hike close to our house. Taking kids hiking inclines them to wanting to go hiking when they are older. It’s healthy, its fun for all ages, its a way to get away from the city bustle for Everyone.
    I’m glad most the people I actually see while hiking smile when they see us and sometimes they say something like “Wow, you are brave taking three little ones hiking.” I’m not going to stop because it annoys a couple peoples tranquility for a few moments.

    • June 6, 2015 at 9:40 am

      Hear, hear! We take the kids on nature walks about once a month. Most folks smile at us, fortunately … for us and for them. 🙂

    • June 6, 2015 at 11:02 pm

      What? What is wrong with people! That’s how you teach younger generations to enjoy the outdoors! I’m about to join a mother’s hiking group, so I’m going to be destroying other people’s peace all over the place.

  2. June 6, 2015 at 9:43 am

    I try to be considerate of most people except bullies. Maybe they need love but not mine, not right now anyhow. Yeah I have been there (not this terrible malady) but in my own personal xxxxhole of my own. I hope Mr and Mrs. Jerkface never have to suffer your kind of world.

    • June 9, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      I have it pretty easy, honestly; though I have a lot to juggle, this is something I’ve only grokked in part due to blog reading.

      Provided it’s only me and someone else, I aim to be kind as often as possible, polite when kindness is too far a stretch, and silent in other cases. It works all save once or twice a year. I’m happy to step in as loudly and firmly as need be if someone’s bullying.

      I think about the Couple Jerkface and am saddened when I think how much I’ve been through … and how much I still have to experience first hand to get it. I wish everyone, everywhere could be quicker than me there.

  3. June 6, 2015 at 10:35 am

    When our middle son was younger, he was delayed in his speech (according to the professionals.) I just assumed when he had something to say, he would say it! Boy did he! Turns out he was ADHD. The only drawback to that was, when he was frustrated with his surroundings, I was often in public, on the floor, in a therapeutic hug with him. For me, that was nothing to do that, even when I was pregnant with my youngest, it was not anything out of the ordinary. As he got older, he was in constant arguments (in public) with his siblings.

    I had become so numb and uncaring about the stares and tsk tsk’s that I heard that it was nothing for me to do what was required to get him to calm down. What really made times like that a whole lot easier to deal with?

    The random stranger that came up to me afterward to tell me how great it is that I can deal with that in public and how much patience I have with my children.

    Were you there and went up the child’s mother and said ANYTHING kindly to her, it would have been appreciated beyond words. My neighbor’s kid is non communicating autistic. They are truly human beings. He once came running in my front door and tried to drag me to their house. His mother had passed out and while he could not speak, he did have enough mental activity to come to his mother’s aid. They are human and should be treated as such.

    Who is to say that they should be kept away from society when it may be that we are the ones who are….different.

    What do YOU think?

    • June 9, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Before I read blogs, I would’ve pretended I saw or heard nothing so as to not add any embarrassment. Then I read my first blog where a parent said, “Holy cow, instead of judging, someone asked if they could help, and it was amazing!” I committed to asking if I could lend a hand instead of quietly maneuvering around the situation.

      I’ve read several such blogs since. I’ve asked several times. (I wrote about asking this question in another circumstance once.) No one has taken me up on my offer yet, but hopefully they felt a little less alone.

      After my weekend encounter with the smiling neighbor, I think what we need now is more intermingling. Not just moving around each other, but being with each other in meaningful ways. That’s what I want now. But how to obtain it?

      • June 10, 2015 at 5:06 am

        I agree. It is hard to achieve that with the way technology had affected our lives.

  4. June 6, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I lost a child at barely a month old. And I remember those days and the day he was born. He weighed about 16ozs. Little David. When I got back to work some guy was ragging me. In a rage I told him to back the hell off because I just lost a child and I am in no mood! He was ataken back and apologetic. Sometimes people do know what to say or when to say it.

    • June 9, 2015 at 8:03 pm

      It’s so, so very true. I still have no idea most the time, but hope that those I’m meeting know my heart’s in the right place even if the words land in the wrong one.

  5. June 6, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I have just finished Lisa Genova’s book ‘love anthony’. Not as good as ‘Still Alice’, but still powerful.
    And I love that she says ‘if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism’. They are as individual as the rest of us. As are the challenges their parents and those that love them face.

  6. June 6, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    My son had to wear a helmet for awhile because he had a flat skull in the back (plagiocephaly). I was used to people asking polite questions about it or saying things like, “my granddaughter had to wear one, they really work!”

    One day, we went out to lunch at a nice Resturant and as we were being lead to our table I overheard:

    “Oh that’s so cute! He looks like he has a little baseball helmet on.”

    “Oh no, those helmets are for retarded kids.”

    I just stopped where I was. I was thinking, how can you just decide what’s wrong with my son? How can you use such a judge mental and disgusted tone? Let’s say you’re right, that helmet would be there to protect him, so you’re saying I shouldn’t protect my child? That there is something wrong with that?!

    Anyway, after I gathered my wits, they had left. I never got a chance to say anything and my husband was too busy talking to the host to overhear them.

    Boy did it make me mad!!

    • June 10, 2015 at 4:35 am

      Gah! What was accomplished by this “those helmets” exchange? What was improved?

      When I wrote my implicit bias post last week, it pained me to type the words “one of those” as I’ve thought it. I can’t count all the times I’ve read blogs–or overheard stories–of folks exclaiming pleasure at meeting “one of those [good] black people.” There’s so much revealed in the speaking of such words, and very little of it strikes me as good.

      • June 10, 2015 at 4:57 am

        That is an excellent point, what was accomplished?! If people thought about what their words build instead of tear down… What a world we would live in.

  7. June 6, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Well, it’s not the same, but I witnessed a blatant case of ethnocentrism at a store recently, where the clerk was refusing to take a $100 bill from an Indian woman, and demanded their rewards card. The Indian woman only had cash, and was really flustered about what the rewards card was (I’m holding back the name of the rewards card, because that would give the name of the company away), and said her husband had the credit cards, and he could pay. When he returned with diapers, he brought out the credit card, and the clerk kept demanding the rewards card (which is NOT necessary to make a purchase). The couple laughed nervously, and the husband said, “I’m sorry, we’re from a different country – we do things differently.” The cashier responded with a very rude, “Well, you’re in AMERICA now.” I was flabbergasted. Completely shocked. Another register opened up, so I didn’t get to give that cashier a piece of my mind, but when I got home, I certainly drafted an e-mail to corporate, received an immediate e-mail back in the morning (with a clarification requesting the specific details for the store), a call from that store’s manager, indicating that a training would take place, because that sort of service was unacceptable. She was clearly just picking on these people, rather than taking a moment to be kind. I mean, they were clearly shopping for a baby in a foreign country!!! Ergh!

    • June 10, 2015 at 4:44 am

      I think it springs from the same source.

      Did you have any interaction with the couple? I want to reach back in time and apologize to them.

      Reading this reminds me of the many times in Japan I didn’t understand or couldn’t navigate something new in front of me. So, so many times, Japanese folks patiently guided me where I needed to go without once adding extra obstacles. One lady actually even walked me thirty minutes out of her way to make sure I got safely where I was going; I gave her one of mom’s rings, valuable sentimentally though not monetarily, to say thanks.

      It pains me imagining these new parents hoping for even a fraction of that guidance as they try learning new ropes, only to be assaulted with useless microaggression and chilliness. I’m so, so glad you witnessed that and followed up with the store’s management! Unbelievable.

  8. Paul
    June 7, 2015 at 4:14 am

    I too have a hard time understanding adults who are critical of loud children. I honestly think it is symptom of the “Me” culture that we seem to be growing. If “I” am inconvenienced or can’t get what I want then someone else is to blame. Not good.

    I’m glad that you are making this public Deborah. ThankYou.

  9. June 7, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Reblogged this on blessedncrazy.

  10. June 7, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Amen. It takes a village to raise a child. What kinds of kids do we raise with hate and judgement? What kind of village does that make?

  11. June 7, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    My son is capable of some pretty loud verbalizations, too, good on them for going out. I hope they continue to do so!
    I answered your questions at the end in your comment box, and then realized it was the largest comment box I had ever seen and I did not want to embarrass myself by posting it as a comment, so I put it on my blog. I tried to share (when did the buttons change?) this, but perhaps it did not come out quite right…
    I think we should keep going out. The less we hide our children at home the more they will look acceptable, I think it is a cultural process.

  12. June 8, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    One of my very best friends has two children under 12 who are autistic, one verbal the other non-verbal. They lived with me for 6-months last year. There were days I thought I would lose my mind, other days I had great joy in their company.

    You are right, a bit of patience and grace would go a very long ways. Thank you for sharing this story. Thank you for reminding us.

  13. July 8, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    My son is on the autism spectrum; he turned 20 this year and last month (right around the time you were offering this post) finally became more than we could handle — there is a history of mental/emotional disorder in our family (my side) and horrific anger (his dad’s — my first husband’s — side) and it finally came out of him. I am thankful for California because the services we receive here have allowed him to live in a board and care home where he can receive more services and supervision than we could ever provide at home. He is doing well and we pray that it continues. I am sad, my husband is sad and feels that as a step-father he was not able to do more, and we are hopeful that one day we can again develop a relationship with him.

    • July 9, 2015 at 4:38 am

      I’m glad that you’re positioned to benefit from public services, but … far more than that, I’m so sorry to hear of your last month’s struggles. I share your hope for what’s ahead, and also for some measure of peace between here and then.

  1. June 7, 2015 at 6:34 pm
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