There was a little boy in the restaurant we visited the other day; he couldn’t have been more than three. He was screeching, banging his silverware and flicking the blinds, and was causing everyone in the place to gawk at him. His mother and father would ask him to stop, and he would ignore them, or he’d smile in their faces, mocking their authority and their apparently insignificant efforts. You’ve probably experienced the situation I’m talking about: the boy doesn’t care who he’s bothering and the parents seem oblivious to his actions.
To be quite honest, I would have moved my table if I could have. It was clear that many patrons including us were wishing the parents could do a better job, though his mother did decide to take him for a walk after what seemed to everyone to be the last minute.
Ah, but there was finally relief.
The peace and quiet lasted about fifteen minutes, until the kid’s food got to the table; his two sisters had been so quiet and patient. Then Mom came back with the unruly boy in-tow, and when he saw the spread on the table, he screeched as loud as his lungs would let him. It was unnecessary, and the stares turned to audible whispers. Why aren’t those parents doing anything to keep that kid in line? If he can’t behave, they shouldn’t take him out in public.
Food seemed to keep the kid quiet, but his appetite was voracious. He used his hands most of the time, treating the fork more as a musical instrument than an eating utensil, and he ate as if he hadn’t seen a meal before. His parents continued to act like nothing was going on and that things were normal. It was really quite distracting.
This kid didn’t seem to have any control over himself whatsoever. When he finished inhaling his meal, his parents had to do all they could to keep the kid off his sister’s plate. Moreover, when they tried to intervene, all he would do is climb on them, or give a head butt to his mother’s stomach or bounce on the booth. There was no controlling this boy, and his parents’ efforts to rein him in him were lackluster at best. You could tell that they had been through this with him before, and it was clear to the whole restaurant that the mom and dad didn’t seem to care.
When the family got up to leave, the boy continued ignoring his parents’ commands. He was running up the aisle and when Dad took his hand, he tried to pull away and dropped his legs out from under him. It was embarrassing and disobedient. It’s also hard to comprehend how the father was putting up with it such an ill-tempered boy or why he was letting the kid get away with it.
When the family finally left the restaurant, there was an overt sigh of relief from the weary crowd and we immediately felt more comfortable. We were more comfortable because we were outside and there were no longer any eyes peering into our lives. We had taken our “unruly” child away from the misunderstanding mass and continued with our lives just as we do every day.
That’s what you do when you have a child with autism; it’s a catch-22. He has to learn how to function in our world. Yet, sometimes in doing so, his world spills over and gets snagged on other peoples’ lives. He isn’t doing it because he’s misbehaving or because we are weak parents; he just doesn’t know any better.
We try to stop him from banging, but still haven’t found a replacement for that activity. The same goes for flicking the blinds and bouncing on the table. We’re conscious that it’s annoying you, and would give the world to have the boy behave like his sisters or your children. On the outside, it looks like we are giving in and letting him get away with anything and everything. Honestly, we only fight the battles we have learned we can win: Brushing Teeth, Keeping Shoes On, Learning to Say “Thank You” in American Sign Language. We’ll get to Restaurant Etiquette, but it may be a while.
As for moving to a different table, we don’t have that option. We can no more move to a quieter section of the restaurant than we can stop taking him out on the town. We try to preplan his order and take him for walks around the building when things get chaotic, because we know what a disruption he can be for you. Before our son graced us with his company, we used to think the same thing about the occasional frenzied child we would encounter.
Now, we feel compassion for those frazzled parents, and even try to offer an ear of solidarity. We have learned to assume less and ask more. We know what they both feel like: those parents and the stares they get. We sometimes wish we could do better by and for him, and sometimes selfishly blame ourselves for his condition.
However, it isn’t our lack of parenting skills any more than the situation is his ‘fault’. Our loving little boy is going to provide the world with excitement for the rest of his life. We might as well introduce him to everyone now.
We also know that the screeching can grate on you; actually, we know it first hand. From the time he wakes until he lays his exhausted body on the mattress, screeching is nearly all he knows for communication. We too, will be happy when he learns how to talk; then he can finally tell us, “I love you, Mommy and Daddy.”
That is, unless you’re just staring at him because he’s too cute for words.