It is bound to happen if you have a child on the low end of the Autism Spectrum, perhaps severely affected with autism. Such is the case with my nine year-old nonverbal son Matthew.
Matthew likes to run back and forth within stores with the emphasis on the electronic doorways. He can be found shaking a circular or playing with the strings to his pants while standing inside the doorway, usually the exit side.
Many stores here in Los Angeles have security guards that work afternoons and evenings. I hardly ever come across them while doing my morning errands, but when I have my children with me the chances of us running into a security guard are more frequent.
When my kids were much younger and we were just starting out into the community with autism in full swing - I was a nervous wreck at the county and government offices. The reason being that these security guards are armed and my kids were always flapping things around. I kept thinking any minute a guard is going to grab their weapon because they felt something or someone touch them.
This never did happen and I have become much more relaxed around them, going off and doing my shopping and paying them no attention. A few times even the library has had a security officer inside. Now Nicholas informs them that Matthew has autism and cannot talk.
Security guards spot Matthew running amok and approach him, while he has no clue what is transpiring around him. Nicholas is usually in close proximity and will try to explain Matthew's behavior. Today we went on a few errands with the first location being a check cashing service within a building that has other services. The place I went to is between Starbucks and Subway.
Matthew spent the time standing at the doorway, which he normally does when we do our laundry here since it is also a laundromat. Later in the day there is a lot more foot traffic here and this created Matthew to scream and shake his head repeatedly.
People turn and stare at Matthew or laugh and look at me as he runs over to me in attack mode ready to pull at my clothing and hit my arms. He will also run up to Nicholas and laugh in his face trying to engage him in some form of play. Nicholas will mutter outloud that Matthew always does this and it is tough being his brother.
Most clerks at places we frequent are used to Matthew and know it is not done deliberately and will converse with us. Next we headed over to Walgreen's with Matthew skipping into the store with a full blown scream in process. This was done with his head being thrown about and hair going all over the place. He has this look in his eye and his head turns a bit - my signal that a shake and scream is about to occur.
When we are home and out of the public eye I can get a handle on this more than when I am caught off guard and have to move my body to face him and avoid an attack. As he is approaching me I look at him and tell him not to hit me. Hopefully this alerts the prying eyes from people that this is something that occurs often and not out of character.
I saw as we entered the store after Matthew a guy turn his head in the direction of where the scream came from. He bolted in the store so fast and furious with that shake and scream it was impossible to stop it or confront it. This continued sporadically while in Walgreen's. I was not aware that the security guard was working undercover, dressed in dingy clothing and went over to Matthew to try to talk to him. This security guard got louder and had his sweatshirt in his hand, not sure if he had just taken it off, but I was uncertain what this very large man was going to do to my son. Nicholas was trying to tell him that Matthew has autism and cannot speak.
I was behind the security guard and told him that Matthew was just having a screaming fit and grabbed his arm and walked away from the man. There was a lady shopping who would not go to the checkout behind me as she seemed terrified of Matthew and his screaming. She seemed to be over dramatic in her mannerisms.
Nicholas was in line in front of me when he realized he must have dropped his wallet so I paid for both our orders and we all left when he returned. The usual cashier we know was not there, nor was the store manager. We were parked near the front in the Disabled parking. After closing the van door for the kids and getting Matthew's seatbelt secured I saw a customer from the store coming toward me.
She asked me an unusual question that made no sense to me. How long have you known? I had no clue what she was talking about until she then inquired to when was he diagnosed? I figured if she had not heard me mention autism in the store, the five bumper stickers would tip her off that autism was the culprit behind the screaming episode in the store.
I thought that was an odd question since Matthew is nine years old and was diagnosed before age three. I made it clear to this woman that both my sons are on the Spectrum with the diagnoses made back in 1998 and 1999, within six months of each other. I informed her that there are many disabilities in the family tree and neither child regressed.
Matthew was screaming in the car, so that was my cue to get going. While driving home Nicholas made the statement that the security guard should pay attention to his weight and learn about autism. I did make the suggestion that Nicholas should not say something about his weight to him since he was such a large person maybe he had problems with his weight.
Nicholas purchased a toy Iguanna, saying it was to scare Matthew so he would not bug him anymore. The last time we were at Rite Aid Matthew was on another of his rampages coming up to me at the register pulling at my clothing. There the male clerk asked if Matthew had scratched my face, and I had to then explain about my eczema on my face. The reason for being at Walgreen's was to search for a particular product for my face, but they did not have it. I wanted to avoid Rite Aid because they have a security guard and it is busier in the afternoon with long lines.
Somedays you just don't want to leave the house, whether it is because of your own skin condition that gets inflamed on your face where people treat you like you have the plague, or your child can set off a screaming and shaking fit where you want to hide in the corner.
I found it very helpful that the register had a shelf with Hershey's Kissables, two packets for a buck. This was a stress induced purchase with chocolate kisses a tasty reward for getting through the store in one piece.
Just another day doing some errands with a child or two on the Autism Spectrum.
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Out of the Ordinary
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Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.
Rules for a Respite Worker