Navigating Public Places with a Child with Special Needs | An Open Letter to Rude People

Dear People In Public Places,

There are a few things I wish you knew when I am out shopping with my grown disabled son.  Please think about this the next time you see us or anyone who isn’t acting quite like you would expect them to for their age.

My son never leaves home without a toy, doll, book, car something in his hand.  When you see a grown man holding a toy, odds are, they are not neurotypical.  Please don’t expect them to act like they are.   When you shove past him screaming “Excuse me” understand that yes, he heard you.  No he will not move, he is very scared of being away from my side.  When you said “excuse me” you were still walking hard and fast and just expected him to move.  It does not work that way, I have to hear you, I have to look up see where you are in relationship to my son and quickly choose how to move him out of your way.   He cannot quickly move to the side, and will not walk forward where he cannot see me.  I am moving him as fast as I can, shoving him over as you push by is rude, and to think you mumbled rude about him under your breath.  Yea, I heard it, you wanted me to.

The Invisible People by Neil MoraleePlease do not make assumptions.  Sharing with me about your deaf niece who is a sophomore student at State and does not let her lack of hearing make her unaware of others was as unkind as it was informative.  I am happy for her, so glad she has not let anyone or any issue hold her back.  However my son is not deaf, he can hear and understand, what he cannot do is process information at lightening speed like most neuro typical people do.  He heard you ask him to move, he did smile at you to let you know he was trying to process how to move out of your way.  I moved him, just not fast enough for you.  Thus the lecture on how some deaf people don’t act like the world owes them something.  Do you feel better now?  For the record your lecture fell on deaf ears, mine.

If I look rattled while shopping and I don’t see you and speak, it’s because I have ADHD.  Attend, deflect, help and debate.  Attend first and foremost to my son.  Deflect any negative energy in our personal space that will change the mood of the day. Help my son move, walk, turn, hold, carry, check his Depends for over full to avoid a leak all while shopping in a calm happy social manner.  Debate on what counts and what does not.  Do I walk past a much needed item and hope I can get back to get it while I am having to make a trip to the restroom to change that Depends?  Do I risk the Depends one more isle?  Do I end the trip early because someone who has shoved past us twice is again on the same isle with us or do I jump to the other side of the store and hope they don’t end up there too?  I debate all the time while I am in a store.  Quietly, in my head while you are chewing me out for being in your way I was debating if it was worth my time and breath to tell you off.

Please do not call my son rude, lazy, or dead weight.  No, he cannot as a matter of fact, hold open that heavy door that goes into the post office.  Yes I do understand your 80 year old Mother could do that, but my son simply cannot.  If he tries to hold the door it will slam shut and he or I or you might get hurt in the process.  So let it slide will you as you watch me struggle to open the door, hold 3 boxes to mail in one hand and guide my son with the other hand all while holding the door open with my foot.  If it bothers you so much, step in an help rather than tell your child he better not grow up to be such a lazy dead weight like I let my son grow up to be. By the way, nice example Mom, stand there and watch us struggle while you tell your son what a bad Mom I am. Who do you really think looked stupid, I saw your child looking sadly at my son, he knew something was up.

Yes I do know this is the woman’s restroom, oh how I know.  I watched for three minutes to make sure no little girls ran in here, and I watched two exit.  I prayed I would be able to run in and grab the handicapped stall without anyone seeing us.  But no, the handicapped stall is at the end of 15 normal sized stalls that we must walk past, and when we got there it was full.  Some teenager was in there talking on her cell phone while changing clothes.  Happens all the time.  You don’t want to see me and my grown son in the woman’s restroom, well start a petition for a family restroom in this mall.  I’ll come help build it.  You think you are uncomfortable? Try wearing Depends and leaking to the floor while waiting on that teenager to exit the only stall you and your Mom can fit in, I can assure you my son is a lot more uncomfortable than you are.  The puddle at his feet says it all.

Yes I do have a smart mouth.  I would say I am sorry, but honestly I am not.  I spend a lot of time planning every minute that I am outside the house with my son.  I make list based on store isles and group stores in an order based on restroom accessibility.  I choose what is critical to take care of and what I can drop if a crisis hits.  I pack clothing, Depends, supplements, essential oils, allergy safe snacks, keep a wheel chair in the car for seizures and then leave the house.  I love taking my son for an outing and he loves it as well.   I am not about to let one person shove him to the point he falls, and trust me it takes so little for him to fall.  I am not going to let you talk down to me or him, he can hear and understands perfectly.  I am not going to say I am sorry for him being with me and I am not going to as you suggest find a keeper for him, God chose me for that job.  Didn’t your Momma teach you if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?

For the ones of you who are kind and smile and nod, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You are the reason I have not given up on life and lost my faith in humanity.  As for the rest of you, be careful, what goes around comes around, you might find yourself in my shoes someday.  I hope not, but if you do, I’ll just smile and nod and wink, because I know just how much work you put into getting out in public.

Signed,  John’s Mom

This is written as part of the “Letters” Series. Have a Letter you’d like to write, find more info here.

Cheryl Bailey
Cheryl Bailey is a freelance/ghost writer who lives North Mississippi. She is the mom of two grown sons the youngest was disabled after a vaccine injury left him without any physical skills or speech. Cheryl now works to advocate for all persons of disability, and frequently writes about life with John, subject of A View in the Mirror. Her other passions include sewing, gardening, and spending time her dog Cindy and any stray cats that choose to call her back porch home. When not working as an advocate for persons with disabilities, she can be found working for Soldiers Angels in support of our troops. You may contact her via Facebook or Twitter.
Cheryl Bailey
Cheryl Bailey

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