|Ignorance makes me see red.|
Photo by Stuart Miles
The other day I was in line at the bank when the following incident occurred:
At the small play area that the bank provides for kids whose parents are waiting in line a boy about E.'s age was having a full-blown meltdown. He was pounding his father with his fists while screaming at the top of his lungs and cursing. The father, who was holding him in a safe hold, looked worn down and exhausted, and it was clear that this was something he'd seen before. He was also looking around a bit, clearly embarrassed that the other bank customers had to see this. His three girls that were also there were playing in the area nonchalantly. They had also clearly been witness to this type of meltdown before. It was quite clear to me, both during the meltdown and once he had calmed down, that this boy obviously had an autism spectrum disorder. Having been in that position many times, my heart went out to the poor guy.
This went on for a couple minutes. Most of the people in the line were averting their eyes and staring straight ahead, obviously uncomfortable. I wanted to go over to see if I could help, but I was afraid of making the situation worse. Then, the woman in front of me turned around and said to me, not loudly, but clearly, "I guess some people just shouldn't be parents, huh?"
I immediately felt my heart speed up and my adrenaline kick in to high-gear production. I suppressed an urge to hit this ignorant woman, and instead told her that I was pretty sure the boy was autistic, that my own son was autistic, "so maybe next time you should just keep your opinions to yourself." My voice and my hands were shaking, and I'm sure she could feel my interior rage rolling off of me in waves. Her eyes got wide, and she quickly turned around and didn't say another word.
The woman behind me placed her hand on my shoulder and said, quietly, "Good job." I'm so glad she was there because I was nearly in tears. I needed to get this check cashed, but more than anything, I wanted to run out of there.
I wasn't just angry because that horribly ignorant woman said that. I was angry because I wondered how many others in that line were thinking the exact same thing and simply had the common sense not to say it. It also confirmed my fear that people were indeed thinking that when I find myself in that same sort of situation. I wondered what it was about me that made me look as if I would appreciate a comment like that. Was it because I kept sneaking peeks over to the family? Was it because of the worried expression that was probably on my face?
I was also angry with myself because I didn't have the guts to go over there and help. For all I know, he might have appreciated a friendly face who had some experience with the same situation. I don't know, and I never will know.
Would you have gone over? What was the right thing to do here?