As a parent, Deborah’s priority is making sure her children are safe and happy – she wants to keep them away from harm and do everything she can to protect them.
So when her son started looking distressed in the supermarket, she quickly became worried. He hadn’t had a diagnosis at that point, so she wasn’t as aware of the signs that could lead to a ‘meltdown’, and how she would be able to manage that whilst keeping him safe in public environments.
Sensory processing differences mean many of the sensory aspects of supermarkets can be stressful for some autistic people. The sounds, smells, and lights may trigger a ‘meltdown’, which is an intense response to feeling overwhelmed. In this case, Deborah’s son became extremely distressed and started screaming, drawing stares from the public.
It’s difficult to see your child struggle, and when you add the unhelpful stares from onlookers, it becomes even more of a challenge. She was used to the looks from crowds, but in that moment, it added to the fear in the situation. It made her feel really alone when all she wanted was someone to have her back and offer some help.
Judgement from others can be upsetting - it creates feelings of isolation and adds more pressure to the situation. So when a random stranger came up to her to ask if everything was okay, it was reassuring and made things feel more manageable knowing someone was on her side.
She said: “I’d like to thank that man, I didn’t even know who he was. He really did show me that people do care.”
The support and compassion from that one person made such a difference. The small gesture offered her the comfort of knowing she wasn’t so alone and that someone was willing to stand by her during a hard time. It served as a reminder that there are kind people out there who will go out of their way to make sure that you’re okay.
Looking back, she can see all the ways she would’ve done things differently. But at the time, she wasn’t to know. Thankfully, the support from her children and the kind bystander meant that the situation was managed and her son was safe.
In moments like this, it was important for her to stay calm and patient whilst offering words of support and reassurance to her son. Every person is unique and different strategies may be needed to suit each individual, but for Deborah’s situation, being there for him and letting him know that he was safe and loved was vital.
She added: “You can’t plan perfectly for everything, but what you can do is support each other and be there for each other, and it’s so much better to offer help than be just a spectator.”
It’s easy to make assumptions, but it’s important to consider different perspectives. When someone is struggling, offer some empathy and understanding – it can go a long way. Everyone is going through their own challenges and a gentle show of support can have a real positive impact on someone’s experience.
Her Top Tip: When someone is struggling, reach out to them and offer some support instead of being a spectator.