It really doesn’t help when strangers deliver stinging comments like “Can’t you control your child?” or “Can’t you hear your child screaming?” while you are otherwise engaged in simultaneously 1) figuring out what’s causing him to scream/misbehave 2) avoiding injury to yourself, the environment and your offspring and 3) trying to calm down the noisy little one. One way I’ve found to nip the comments of others in the bud is to develop a short-list of ready-made responses.
Snappy Comebacks to “Can’t you hear (control) your screaming child?”
1. “My child is on the autism spectrum. It is a complicated disease, and my son cannot help the way he is acting.” Mature and sensible, this approach works when you have a few minutes to spare for follow-up dialogue, which means you will rarely ever use it. Please see below for alternatives.
2. “I’m deaf.” My friend Ashley uses this one all the time to cut off these rude strangers at the pass. I never had the courage to use it.
3.“There are forces in play here that you cannot possibly understand.” I have been dying to try this one accompanied by a sinister waggling of my eyebrows, but haven’t been daring enough to do so.
4. “Sorry, I can’t talk now; my child is having a meltdown.” Brief and to the point, yet polite. It is a favorite among all of the moms we’ve talked to.
5-6. “He’s really hungry.” Wimpy, but it works. The only problem is that you have to somehow scoop the child up and take him somewhere where there is presumably food. In essence, you are cutting short your activity and making up excuses to accommodate the judgment of others. Alternatives such as, “she’s really tired” also work well, but are equally cowardly. I used these frequently before receiving Connor’s diagnosis. I have become much more assertive since then.
7. Yes, but I choose not to. I’m letting him work it out on his own. Thank you for thinking of us, and I apologize for disturbing you.” A polite way of saying mind-your-own-business, but also verifying that you have a reason for what you’re doing. It also protects the child by not using autism as an excuse, if you have not yet told your child about his autism diagnosis.
8. If I have the time, I try patiently to explain, but the problem with this approach is that I won’t be heard over the din of screaming and flying objects, even if I am prepared to be pithy. The Autism Speaks Organization has a button that you can order online to say, “I’m Not Misbehaving. I have Autism,” but I have a hard time asking my son to wear one all the time, especially since his meltdowns are now few and far between, and I know that he values his privacy.
9. Ignore them.This takes more self-discipline than I have.
10. And finally, I try to remember that many people still just don’t understand autism. I try not to be too hard on them.