To those who tut and stare…

Biggest running along a bridge in Priory Park, Malvern

My parenting may seem unusual to you. You might think I am indulgent. Maybe you think I display favouritism, that I am soft, that I have made a rod for my own back. You probably won’t understand my odd reactions to what seems like misbehaviour from my son.

Every parent knows what it is like to have a screaming child in a public place. Every parent knows the hot ball of anxiety that blooms as people turn to stare. Every parent thinks they would understand, that they would not be the one to stare, that those tuts would never escape their lips.

But it was not my son’s high-pitched screaming in the supermarket that elicited your disdain, oh no. It was not the fact that his shriek was so loud, so visceral, that people on the other side of the store turned to see what was happening.

It was the way I dealt with it.

On Saturdays, we go to the supermarket as a family. My husband helps me to the café with the children and then runs off to get the things we need. Meanwhile, we have a treat – cookie for each of the children, a coffee for me. Imagine the scene.

I am struggling to the table holding my toddler and the tray, while my son follows behind. I manage to get my daughter into a high-chair, lift my son into his chair, take both their coats off and sit down to take their biscuits out of the packaging.

“Ok, H, shall mummy break for biscuit up for you?” I ask my little girl.

“No! H want biscuit! No break!” Her lip quivers.

My son screams.

“No! No! It has to be broken up! Please! It is always broken up!”, he wails.

I move his chair closer to me and put my arm around him so that I can exert some pressure. It helps to calm him.

“It’s ok E. H, please can I break up your biscuit for you?”

“No! Want biscuit!”

The second scream is much worse. It is ear-splitting, wracked with pain. Everyone nearby turns to look. They assume he must be hurt. He continues to scream and shout, can barely control himself, lashes out at the table.

I turn to my daughter, who is just two years old.

“Bubba, listen to mummy. E is very sad that I have not broken up your biscuit, like I always do. Please can I break it up?”

“No! Biscuit now!”

“Bubba, look at E. Do you see he is sad?” She nods. “He wants me to break your biscuit. Can I break it please?”

“Ok Mummy.”

I break up my daughter’s biscuit for her and then I turn to my son. He is still distressed. It is never as simple as fixing the thing that is wrong. Once the storm comes it takes time to subside, whatever the cause. I hold him very close and very tightly.

“E, sweetheart. Look at H’s biscuit. You see, it is broken?” He sobs into my shoulder. “E, love, look. Look at the biscuit.” He looks over to his sister, who is happily eating her cookie. I feel him relax a little, under my arms. But he is still crying. Shouts and screams and grunts come every so often.

“Ok E, the biscuit is broken, just like always. Look. You see it? Good. Now listen. Sometimes, H doesn’t want the same thing as always. Sometimes she doesn’t want the same thing as you.”

He shouts, pulls against my hold.

“It is ok. It is ok bubba. Listen to mummy. I know you don’t like that the biscuit is different but sometimes other people want different things. You must try not to scream so loudly and explain to mummy instead. Screaming doesn’t help us understand. Ok?”

He does not speak. So often, when these feelings overwhelm him, he loses his language completely. The signs of his overpowering anxiety are clear to me. He huddles close, one hand tugging at his ear, the fingers of his other hand in his mouth. It will take him time to recover, time to become himself again.

Me and the children walking in Croome

When my son screamed, you turned to stare. You were eating breakfast with your husband, just a few feet away. You looked over at us for the whole of the incident I describe. I felt your eyes on me, uncomfortable pins of scrutiny while I tried to calm my children.

But the eyes rolls, the tuts, the obvious contempt for the way I dealt with my son, that only came after the screaming. That only came when you overheard the way I calmed him.

And that is the problem, you see. To be truly aware, you must be completely open-minded. It is not about screams. It is not about tantrums or meltdowns or seeing children acting out. It is about your assumptions. It is about the fact that your world has not intersected with mine before now. If you know someone with autism, still, you do not know my son. You do not know how any changes, any deviance from what always happens, from what he expects – it is terrifying to him. You do not understand why I pleaded with a two-year-old baby in reaction to my son’s ‘spoiled’ screams. You do not know why I seemed to comfort, to reward what you think I should have disciplined.

We left, and you went on with your day, none the wiser.

Tolerance is not about seeing a screaming child and reserving judgement. It is casting aside all your assumptions, everything you know about your life and what you think you understand.

It is hard but it comes more easily with practice. My son has taught me that.



To read more about our autism journey, you may like:

No apologies: you don’t have to say sorry for autism


The Fight: War cry for an Autism Parent

To those who tut and stare - how judgement is about more than ignoring screaming children.

Linked for Posts from the Heart from the Heart with Mummy Times Two

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32 thoughts on “To those who tut and stare…

  1. Thank you for sharing. As a mum of four, with three on the autism spectrum, I can totally relate. Two of mine are high functioning, and sometimes it’s even harder for them when they get overwhelmed by everything. You do what you can for your kids and try to ignore the stares and the “tuts”, but it can be hard. All the best on your journey.

  2. Great post and can totally relate to it… I find people are so judgemental these days..Once i confronted someone who was muttering and pointing at us when my son was in the middle of a meltdown and she replied ” well he doesnt look like he is disabled”! Unbelievable that people think that one has to “look” disabled to avoid judgement! #postsfromtheheart

  3. I love how you talked & explained to your little girl about her brother being upset. You got her permission instead of just breaking it. What a great mama you are! ❤

  4. I think the way you dealt with this was amazing. you were a great mum. so don’t let those tuts disheartened you. you’re doing great!

  5. My son is 29 now, I’ve learnt not to take any notice of the tuts or stares or comments. You keep on doing what you are doing, you are a great mum and should be praised for handling things so well not tutted at by someone who knows nothing about you and your family. xx

  6. You are a great mom. And you are right, so many people judge everyone else, but I find the older generation are much worse than those of us in the trenches. We pity each other, and most of us try to understand because we all have bad days. #postsfromtheheart

  7. I can totally relate to this. Like you I also have to ask my daughter if she wouldn’t mind doing so and so just so that my son doesn’t have a meltdown. She is only 6 and she is very good with him. But it’s important to also consider her feelings. Unfortunately you have to learn to live with the stares and the tuts.

  8. Thank you for sharing. My husband is a SENCO and he sees parents really distraught by the reactions of other people when their children are having a tough time and it’s so unfair, people really ought to be more open! #postsfromtheheart

  9. Sending so much love from one who has been there far too often in an Autism sense and who now treads the path again, only this time in relation to food. I am confident in my decisions about how I parent, but I will never get used to the reactions of others. People need to learn to be kind. I hope you have had a lovely Mother’s Day, you deserve it. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us at #PostsFromTheHeart

  10. It sounds like you know exactly what works best and what your son needs. I know it often feels like peoples eyes are starring critically, but perhaps that lady was looking over in awe and how you were managing. I know I often find myself watching other Mums, because I am still learning, and am so impressed by how they make situations work.

  11. I make it my life purpose to walk straight up to these moms who are in the thick and show her my ill behaved children melting down or to let her know that I have been there- like five times a freaking day. Not alone- never alone.

  12. You know what, it sounds like you did a perfect job! Autism or not we do what we need to do in a public space to calm our children and diffuse a situation. I do not know your son, but I suspect if you had dealt with it any other way his screams would have been louder and gone on for longer. You must have to be so very patient, and bless your little girl for understanding! #postsfromtheheart

  13. You did almost exactly what I would have done in that situation. In fact, you probably kept your cool a whole lot better than I would have! Judgey eyes from others used to bother me but not so much now. You sound like a terrific mama #PostsFromTheHeart ❤

  14. My son is aged 6 and still loses the ability to communicate when upset. When he was 2 a woman came up to me to tell me all the things I was doing wrong. I was mortified then angry. No one knows my child better than me. #postsfromtheheart

    1. Thank you, but they weren’t just staring. I am used to that as it happens on every outing. They were scowling, tutting and eye rolling. And while I simply ignore it at the time, I write about it so that more people become aware.

  15. It sounds like you did an amazing job of diffusing the situation, negotiating, comforting, while staying calm yourself, and having to do all that in front of judging eyes must be doubly stressful. Why do some people feel they have to criticize when they know nothing about you and your family? You’re a fantastic mum! #KCACOLS

  16. this is a difficult situation and something we face when out and about with our daughter. but I do also look over when I hear a child or adult in distress, I will take a few moments to watch the situation and see if I should offer some help, or just mind my own business. I want to reach out when I’m on my own and tell the parent that I understand, that I know what it’s like, but I also appreciate it’s probably not the right time and it’s never easy to find the right words. I remember once a woman telling me, when I was having difficulties with my daughter after she threw the salt and pepper pot onto her table and I apologised ‘oh don’t worry dear, I’ve got one at home like that’ At first I thought she meant the salt and pepper pot then realised she meant, child.

  17. I have always loved the way you write your posts, I totally get this and people don’t just stare they do go out of their way to comment or tut and eye roll. You keep doing what you’re doing xx #spectrumsunday

  18. Danielle, I love reading your blog. You are such a wonderful Mum. This one in particular really spoke to me. I am a special needs sibling. All of my life, my own mum counted on me to make sacrifices and understand when I had to give in or accept for the sake of my brother. His behavior was hard on her, and it was often easier for her to explain to me why I needed to make allowances than try to get through my brother’s rage. I will be honest with you. As I entered my teen years, I was so resentful. Hormones and puberty mad me think about myself and all of the injustice I saw in my upbringing. There were rough years when I railed against what I saw as so unfair and made things even harder on my mum. I felt like my own needs were never as important to her. It was always up to me to give in and go along, even though I was younger. As I entered aldulthood, all of her lessons slowly started to get through, and I was able to understand. Now, I teach my own children about sacrifice, and how even though something my feel unfair, it is sometimes just the right thing to do for someone else. If you have years with your daughter where she doesn’t understand yet, were she challenges your parenting and makes you feel you’ve wronged her, please be patient and trust that one day, the sun will shine and she will see how you’ve enriched her life by teaching her such kindness and compassion.

    1. Thank you so, so much. I cannot tell you what reading experiences like this means to me. I worry every day that she will miss out – she is a naturally sociable and adventurous child, where her brother is cautious and solitary. I hope that I do my best to make sure that I stretch him to embrace her confidence, and encourage her to learn a little from his caution. It is my hope that they will learn about compromise and compassion through their dealings with each other. But I am also really frightened that one, or both, will end up resenting each other. Your words are a great comfort. Thank you again. xxx

  19. My son is autistic too and we get the tuts until people realise that he has a syndrome which left him with only half his face. Then they relax and accept his behaviour. I always said that life would be harder I think if he looked like his ‘typical’ twin brother. I love your honesty. Keep it coming x

  20. I can relate to your post too. I blog about my adventures with my son, he has ADHD. I recently blogged about a similar situation but this time a lovely lady helped me rather than judged me! It’s a shame that’s a rare occurrence.

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