Health care is a basic human right, not a privilege. For some reason, we’ve allowed ourselves as Americans to be fooled into accepting that one must be blessed with “means” to actuate appropriate health care. As a nation we have failed to realize that our health care system is a barometer of our society’s value for human life.

-Me

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Responsibility to the Public

I just had a conversation with a coworker that made my blood boil. I decided to take this conversation and turn it into an opportunity to share with you what my responsibilities are to the general public in regards to my children, both with varying types of childhood disabilities. (The intent here is not to debate the degree of disability in my children, but merely to communicate where my responsibilities as a parent truly are).

A comment made by my coworker was along these lines: “If you have your child in a store or a public restaurant or area and they are making other people uncomfortable, or having a fit, you should take them home. You should not allow your child to be inappropriate and disruptive while out in public and it is your responsibility as a parent to remove them from the situation and not allow them to act like that.” Woah nelly. The whole thing came from an event she was relaying to me about how a three year old and her family was thrown off a plane because of a temper tantrum the child was having. She left out, until much later in the conversation, that the family was accommodated with tickets to a different flight with presumably less passengers on it. Perhaps that worked for the family, but for me, my initial response was “What? If they tried to do that to me they’d have a lawsuit on their hands. If one of my children is having a meltdown it is more than likely due to external reasons and they need to be helped through the situation, helped to feel safe, and they need to know that in the midst of their meltdown their parent is there to help them, not isolate them because of their inability to modulate their emotions properly. In addition, if my son were having a meltdown before a flight and I was kicked off of a plane with no accommodations for a different flight then they would have a discrimination suit on their hands. My son’s differing ability to process external stimuli is no reason to exclude him from activities.”

There is SO much that goes into this, so please excuse me if I don’t go into all analytical aspects of my debate. Suffice it to say that I have so many times been in a store, restaurant, etc and been the recipient of rude and hurtful remarks regarding the behaviors of my son or daughter. I try to arrange my schedule in such a way that my son is in stores very little, and when he is at the most opportune times for his best behavior, but there is always those exceptions. Add to that, how will he ever learn to integrate his senses and behaviors in these most challenging environments if he is never exposed to them? Each visit to a store or restaurant is challenging for my son, and it is also challenging for every other person at the store. Is that a reason to deny him the opportunity of experiencing those environments? Absolutely not.

Following the conversation were stories of being in the store and witnessing mom’s with toddler’s and children’s tantrums. I hear the judgement in my coworkers voice, and I’m thinking in my head “Do you know how many times that has been me?”. Then I’m thinking of the mother and the child, and I’m imagining the pain they go through with each of these experiences. If it is difficult for onlookers and other shoppers, imagine how difficult it is for the people actually IN the situation?

I feel tears in my eyes, and I feel the beginnings of anger. Anger that other people don’t think that my son should be allowed in stores or restaurants so THEY don’t have to feel uncomfortable. I’m angry that my daughter, who also has high sensory integration needs, is judged by behaviors that at this point she can’t help. I’m angry that someone wants to tell me I don’t belong in the store because of my children’s disabilities. And it pisses me right off.

And next time….Next time we have a melt down in the store (and there WILL be a next time) I am not going to be ashamed. I am going to ignore people’s stares. I am going to offer my children the love and support they need to get through this most stressful time. That is my responsibility to the public, right there. My responsibility is to raise children who are not necessarily appropriate as children, but to raise them in such a way so that as adults they are as appropriate, socially and morally whole, and as independent as they can be. What will YOU be doing when the next meltdown happens? Will you be judging my parenting skills? Or….will you be thinking about this post, and wondering how you can help? Will you say a prayer for our tender souls and bid us well as we learn and grow?

I hope you will. In times like those, I need those prayers much more than the judgements.

12 comments:

Nina said...

I read that article too and it really made me think. First, it should be said that it wasn't that the child was just throwing a tantrum, it was that she was throwing a tantrum and hiding under the seat - not sitting in her own seat which is of course required for take-off. Her parents couldn't coax her out and she began hitting her mom. The flight had already been 15 minutes delayed and in an effort to be fair to the others on the flight they asked the family to leave the plane. Not only were they given accomodations for the night, a refund, placed on a flight the next day they were also given 3 round trip tickets to use any time. I don't think that is unreasonable. If there were a drunk person on the flight who wouldn't sit down I would want him removed too so that I can get to where I have to go.

But as far as moms and their rambunctious kids in everyday life like at the store or the post office - I always feel for the mom. My sister has three kids so I try to think of her in that situation - I wouldn't want people giving her stink eye!

My one pet peeve is in restaurants though. I do think that if a child can't sit at a table for the entire course of the meal and be relatively quiet (they shouldn't be there. The parents should think of the other diners and take their kids to a kid friendly place.

Erica said...

Although I don't have a child with sensory issues, I do have a 3 yr old. Toddlers are so highly impusive and emotional that whatever they are melting down about at the moment is the.end.of.their.world. I hate that I have to feel embarrassed by people like your co-workers relaying the horrors of not 'controlling' said child.

I feel really strongly that my children deserve respect, even when they are having a tough time. And I think the fact that the family was compensated in that manner was respectful to both the child (by not just kicking him/her off end of story) and the other passengers.

Nina, you make a good point about restaurants. My personal opinion is that kids need to go to restaurants in order to learn how to behave in one. But you don't take an active toddler or child to the Four Seasons if it will only end up as an unenjoyable, tense meal for everyone involved.

MileMasterSarah said...

You absolutely have to set a child up for success, and going to a ritzy restaurant doesn't do that. I don't take my children to ritzy restaurants, but I do take them to family restaurants. We all have trouble, but we try to pick booths we know will cause the least trouble for other diners, and from there we do the best we can!

Kelsey said...

Great post Sarah!

Does your coworker have children? I can't imagine that anyone who has experienced a child's meltdown in public would pass such judgments. Just my experiences with other people's children (as a nanny or babysitter) has given me empathy for parents going through a tantrum.

Usually I give the parents a compassionate look and then ignore the situation, there's no need to stare, we've all seen upset kids before!

I really appreciate your posts about raising children... I'm taking in all in as advice for the future!

Lyrehca said...

Indeed, seconding the remark about a great post. Sarah, how did you respond to your coworker? I agree it sounds like s/he doesn't have children, let alone children with special needs.

I've had friends tell me they were the judgmental ones until they had rambunctious kids of their own and then became the parent who did their best to control their own kid. It really sounds like so much of good parenting is just doing the best you can.

Anonymous said...

We spend so much time being "socially acceptable" that we are losing compassion in society. I have been the recipient of all of the rude comments about diabetes. I will test my sugar in public, and pre-pump I shot up right at the table. I never do this so that it is obvious or obnoxious, but I have been told to take it to the restroom on occassion - which I refuse to do. I have seen my best friend be made to feel like a pervert for breastfeeding in public and I have been flipped the bird while parked at a sidewalk so that I can walk my 90 year old directly into the doctors office. Society is no longer concerned or empathic about each other - we only care about what is best or most comfortable for ourselves. I long ago decided that I would not cater to the cares of society. I do not have to explain myself to 'them.' I have to care about and take care of what is important to me - my health, friends and family. Like you, I think we have a responsibility to take care of the situation we are in at that moment. If your child needs extra care in a store, give it to them there. You should not feel like you have to leave - that doesn't take care of the situation. You are showing the public that you are caring for your responsibilities in your way. If they don't like it, they can leave!

Chrissie in Belgium said...

Your approach is right on! Separation/removal is NOT the answer. Both your son AND society will be helped if we are all exposed to different life situations.

Penny said...

You don't have a responsibilty to the public. You have a responsibility to raise your children to be well-rounded individuals. And, part of that is putting them in certain social situations so that they can learn.

If people don't realize that, it's their problem. If your children or my children make them uncomfortable, then no one is stopping them from leaving if they'd like.

Lili said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lili said...

(Sorry, blogger is being nuts).

I agree - that article is a much different situation. A friend of mine has a nine-year-old son with autism, and she got him a t-shirt that says, "I'm autistic, what's your excuse?" specifically for when they go to the store.

Amberthyme said...

The more Sandis & Gracie are exposed to new and exciting situations that have the potential for meltdowns the better coping skills they will have when they are older.

I work in the children's department at the public library and I see meltdowns all the time. Some of my coworkers can be judgemental when kids have meltdowns (in the back room of course --and they wonder why I don't bring my kids to the library more often).
I try and make eyecontact with the embarassed parent and reassure them that the children's area is a safe place for kids to regain their composure and that as they make coming to the library part of their routine their child will feel more comfortable and learn what is expected of them. Or just give them a smile and tell them I hope their little one's day gets better. Some simple gesture to let them know that I sympathize with them.

We have a comfortable lobby that parents and overstimulated kids can retire to during StoryTime and come back in when they are ready. I wish there were more places that had "comfort zones". Wouldn't it be nice to take an overstimulated child to a cozy room with soft chairs and a soft rug and a couple of books to wait out a tanturum there and then get back their equilibrium before going back to the grocery shopping?

I just wish there were more people who tried harder to not judge or keep the judgemental comments to themselves.

Lora said...

Kudos to you for such a wonderful post. I once had an experience on an airplane with Griffin, he had a meltdown and I told everyone he was autistic and having a sensory overload and they immediately responded in a positive manner. I also wore my shirt that says "I love someone with autism" and it also helped. In addition I have cards that I got from the autism society (I think) that has on there that my child is not a spoiled brat but he/she is autistic and having a ..... and it goes on to explain how the child is having a difficult time and is in fact not having a spoiled brat tantrum. It's not in those words but it is very thorough and clear about the child's issues etc...I will dig them out and locate them if you are interested and I can give you the address that is on them if you would like to order some, just let me know on my blog that you would like the info. You are on the right track and you are an awesome mom so keep up the great work and I admire you for all your strength and your perseverance.