I was sitting at a table near her, with my lively five-year-old son, his cousin and grandmother.
My son has autism and ADHD, and finds it difficult to be in a noisy, crowded environment. He tends to fiddle, tap and create his own noise to help ‘regulate’ his system. On this occasion, he was trying to pull down the light fitting, climb over the seating barrier, and was very likely disturbing other diners.
Anyway, it would seem this particular lady had observed how challenging life can be being a parent of an autistic child, because she decided to settle our bill – anonymously. What a thoughtful and generous thing to do. It definitely helps balance out the funny looks and the tuts that we are more used to receiving.
It is not easy getting through six weeks of the summer when there are practically no holiday clubs or activities which will accommodate children like mine: a fact unbeknown to most of your readers. Patience wears thin, stress reaches a new decibel, and by the end of the holiday, all you want to do is to sleep.
Families like mine (I have three autistic children and am on the spectrum myself) often just have to muddle through and hope that society perceives that our child is ‘different’, understand that they are not misbehaving or trying their damnedest to upset your meal, they are simply reacting to stimuli which other people’s brains are less affected by.
Yet, it’s important to take our children out to all the same places as neurotypical children would go because it enriches their lives and can help desensitise them to the bright lights/strong smells/loud chatter – so many things that overburden the senses. They can begin to make more sense of the ‘chaos’ that is normal life.
So my thanks once again to the warm-hearted (tolerant) lady who chose to do something genuinely nice for me the other day: it felt like a prize for enduring the long summer holiday. And I hope that my letter has gone a little way in helping other people understand how tricky it can be going to ordinary places with ‘extraordinary’ children.
I’ll save my son’s haircut experience for another day.