Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Handling Public Staring

Discussion Time

Bri asked: I was wondering how do parents handle the constant stares in public by strangers? When my child does not get her way she will act out. Last week at the zoo I had enough, I said out loud, "What is the problem with the staring, if you want to know something just ask". Adults are just as bad as children. Thanks!

Sarah Ann responded: Children stare because they don't know any better and are curious. I'm not bothered by other children staring when my son is having a meltdown. For the adults, you have to grow a thick skin and not let it distract you from the focus of your child.

Jo says:  I know a behaviorist that hands out cards - We're working on this. I have a behavior plan.

Shannon says: I hear a lot of comments from other parents and see lots of posts going around about ignorance and staring etc, but to be honest, I don't think I've ever noticed it happen to me. I'm not sure if it's because I'm so stressed and completely focused on dealing with the behavior or meltdown or if it's simply that I really don't care what other people think?

Cindy shared: At some point you just don't care anymore. It becomes their problem, not yours. It seems like we as parents, have to educate the general public, and while it's not fair, it is what it is. Mostly I just ignore them!

Odd Socks Mummy agrees: I either ignore them or stare back until they get embarrassed and look away!

Dori says: Sometimes you have to say something. I will ask, "Do you know my son? I see you staring, and I thought you must either know him or have a questions?" Do it all with a smile! Be strong Momma! You are your child's strongest advocate!

Jennifer says: It's a shame that it comes to the point of not looking at people. That is probably the most upsetting to me! We want to share the love of our children but instead we get tunnel vision and end up feeling alone and frustrated!

Bri replied: Thanks, sometimes ignoring does not work for me so i do normally stare back at them. Thanks Dori, I am going to use your suggestion in the future, which I think they will be embarrassed by. It's the adults that I was referencing, I can deal with the children.

Samantha shared: Sadly parents are the ones who teach their children the bad habits. My daughter would never say to anyone you are fat, you are this or that or stared at anyone different, as she was brought up to respect people and never heard us talk this way at home. Sadly you can tell exactly how some adults behave by their little mirror images. When I worked with children and adults with disabilities sadly we encountered this often. One man shouted "get that ugly thing away from me", so with a smile my beautiful client sat down right at his table and told him to take his ugly talk away from us beautiful people!

Justine said:  I saw the best thing at the hospital the other day. A mum had laminated a card and stuck it to the top of the prams shade and it said "Hi, My name is Alex. I am a special needs child but I am completely fine. Thank you for your concern." And every single person who walked past couldn't help but read it and then gave the most affectionate smile to both mum and son. I don't think people should stare. It's rude and you never know the situation but sometimes people just need a prompt to act nice and I thought it was a brilliant way to make a hard situation much better.

Sandra shared: My 21 year old son has Down Syndrome and makes a lot of noises, happy humming kinda noises and we are so used to them that we hardly notice, but I tell him when we are out and I see someone look up to see what that noise is - either "yes, you are happy aren't you?" or if he is loud, I will shush him and say, "I like that you are happy, but people might not know that is your happy noise and they might think you are upset". I am grateful that with Down Syndrome, most people are at least aware he has a disability.

Heather said: I choose to attribute positive thoughts to them! Choose to believe those people are saying, "oh, look at how amazing this mom is! She is calm in spite of challenges. She's doing a great job!" Don't assume the worst from people you don't even know. Not all adults stare judgmentally, they also might be trying to figure it out. Staring in and of itself is not an insult. I stare at a lot of things in my day. Some in pleasure, some in confusion, some just because I am zoned out.

Jasmin also shared: I was carrying my newborn in a baby carrier and holding my nearly two year old's hand in the Target carpark while juggling an armful of shopping bags. As I was loading the shopping and kids in the car I noticed an elderly man looking at us, i didn't think much of it. A few minutes later he was still looking and then he approached me to tell me what a great job he thought I was doing and how lucky my kids were to have a terrific mum. I left that carpark with the biggest smile on my face. Not all people stare or look at you in judgement. It could be admiration, sympathy, or a feeling of "I know how that feels". That man made my day and six years later I remember that day like it was yesterday.

Emily pondered: Curious if you discriminate between staring and looking. I look. But there is no judgement or negative thoughts. I'm a people watcher. I do get slightly excited when I see people with disabilities in the community. I might be thinking they have a cool feature on their wheelchair or something else. I'm incredibly shy and rarely comment to people but do try to smile. I guess some might interpret this as staring. I have a PICC line and notice a lot of looks. But I've never been too offended. People are usually either curious or have a connection in their own life that they are thinking about but don't verbalize. I'd love any thoughts on this.

Sonya shared: You will get used to it. It does not even bother me now. In fact I flash them a big smile. It is my NT children that are bothered by it now.

There were so many responses to this question that it is clear that it is an emotionally charged one. I tend to agree with Heather and Jasmin. I don't see evil in a person staring. I see curiosity and questions. I also see someone who doesn't have the words to ask a question, who isn't sure what the right question is. I think their is a great difference between a stare and a look of disgust. Very rarely do I encounter the latter, but when we do, it is an experience that sticks with me.

When Little Miss M was about two years old, my mother and I took her out for the day. Little Miss M was struggling. She was hungry, she was tired, she was most likely having sub-clinical seizure activity. We had been shopping and stopped at Friendly's for lunch. (I share the restaurant name, because this is a restaurant that was designed for families and children). Little Miss M was loud, and she was crying. I was visibly trying everything I could to calm her down. It was clear the medication she was on was only making her already short tolerance even shorter. My attempts at snacks, distractions and games were not working on this day. As I struggled to get my little girl quiet, a patron who was sitting behind us turned around, looked my little girl in the eyes and said, "You need to be quiet, you are hurting my ears." With tears in my eyes, I made the decision to wait in the car with Little Miss M while my mother got our food wrapped up. I apologized to the waitress and the lady for ruining their day while explaining that my daughter couldn't help herself, that she had developmental delays beyond her control. We didn't know she had autism at that time, but it didn't matter. The waitress assured me that it was fine, and that it was a "kid-friendly" restaurant, but I still sat in the car and cried. That was more then a stare; that was a judgmental individual who chose to be condescending that day instead of understanding.

I find myself staring sometimes. Often, I'm wondering what unknown or unseen battle the individual is bravely waging a war against. Many times I'm noticing the beauty of the human spirit and the resilience that goes along with it. I go out with my children often. I never really noticed staring until Little Miss M began spending more and more time in her adapted stroller. I like to think people are curious and see a beautiful child in a chair and wonder why. If they ask, I'm happy to tell them, but most people just return my smile. I try to teach my own children acceptance. Little Miss M is blessed with the gift of not noticing differences unless they are pointed out to her. Black and white are just colors and they mean nothing more. K-Bear is much more discerning and detail oriented. She notices the male cashier with pink hair or the little girl with a tracheotomy tube. She's a detail-oriented child who matches a tutu with every outfit she wears. It would seem strange if she didn't notice the differences. She asks me questions about what she sees and we talk about how it's okay to ask questions, but it's not okay to stare or ask loudly in front of people. I tell her if she is unsure if something is rude, then ask Mommy first. 

I firmly believe that kindness is the ultimate weapon. If you find someone staring at you and you don't feel like you can just share a smile with them, then maybe give them the benefit of the doubt? I never knew what it meant to be a special needs parent until my feet were in the shoes. While I'd like to think the whole world could be like Little Miss M and just not care about differences, I know that most people are like K-Bear. They are curious and they are constantly wondering. However, K-Bear, at only four and a half, has learned the value of tact and that is what I think is missing from the stares that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. 

What do you think is the most powerful way to spread acceptance?


Amanda actually got her first teaching job because she couldn't stop smiling! 

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