How many times did I think twice about going out in public with my autistic daughter? It was a constant thought up until I made the decision to embrace autism. It wasn’t a matter of feeling embarrassed, scared, or incompetent. But rather, because I knew that others would judge without really knowing and understanding the reason for the Public Display of an Autism Breakdown (PDAB). Now I have learned what most antecedents trigger a breakdown, but before I would attribute it to the time of the month, a full moon, or simply bad luck. When I began the journey of reading about the subject at hand, made the effort to attend conferences to initiate a broader network of friends alike, and meet parents with similar adversities, it was then that I had my moment of realization that autism is not a disability, it’s a way of life! My daughter Emma was allowing me to understand and shed a light on the ability to view the world in a beautiful perspective.
Interaction, socialization, and facilitating Emma’s interests have been a priority. She has an unwavering talent for dance, singing, and music. She will commit herself to any child that she is comfortable approaching and is the kindest and most loving person I know. This journey has not been easy. I’m perfectly OK with this and look forward to what lies ahead. The confidence I have gained with taking her out in public was a direct reflection of an approach that not only assisted me with being able to handle any PDAB, but made others observing it more aware and educated of what was transpiring right before their eyes.
A few years ago I was at a grocery store collecting items for dinner. Emma was helping me with the grocery list. We had to enter the store a certain way and go up and down every aisle. Dinner trips were scheduled in two-hour increments every time we went. This particular day I somehow managed to skip the produce section which we normally hit right before we headed to the register. I noticed that I was not hearing Emma recite the grocery list, so I stopped and looked back and there she was on the floor crying. I set the cart aside and quickly dropped to her level and tried to settle her down. She was loud, she was throwing what she could get her hands on and she had now managed to get the crowd’s attention. I quickly started to move any items around her out of her way and someone managed to alert the store manager who came to the area about 10 minutes after the PDAB commenced.
Every PDAB is incident-driven and this particular breakdown I knew would be best if I made sure the area was safe for Emma and let it ride its course. During the back-end of the PDAB, a couple with two kids approached me and made the comment that I was a horrible mother that was ignoring my daughter and just letting her cry and purposely causing a scene. The kids then said she looks stupid on the floor and is acting like a baby. I reached in my pocket and took out a business card. I gave the adults each one to read and keep. The mother immediately ripped it while the father walked away with the kids. She continued to taunt me and accuse me of unbelievable things, but I continued to focus on my priority which was my daughter. Emma then stood up and came running to me and gave me a hug. She asked me why I had not gone to the “salad” section. I quickly apologized for skipping the section and asked her to help me pick out the vegetables because she was the best at doing that. We both silently cried and wiped each other’s cheeks. As we were collecting our last vegetable item, the family that had previously judged what was going on approached us with an apology. I vividly recall the mother looking down at Emma and telling her, “You have an amazing mom and you cutie pie are an amazing girl.” The couple’s little girl hugged Emma while the little boy gave her a high-five. Both parents shook my hand and repeatedly apologized for what they had done. Now you are all probably wondering what caused this change of heart. Remember how I pulled out two business cards, well this is what the business card reads:
“You are receiving this card from my # 1 advocate. I may be intellectually challenged, but my parents’ LOVE serves a greater purpose. I have been taught to forgive uneducated individuals and bullies. Don’t let your lack of judgment cloud your mind, learn from it! Share with a friend and help educate the world.
The mind can only absorb what the eyes see. But my daughter’s smile is a universal language even the most ignorant understand. Please excuse the noise and distraction as a result of an episode. Everyone is entitled to have a bad day once in a while!”
I leave you with this thought: The love and influence a parent has over a situation is far greater than what we give ourselves credit for. You and only you as a parent of a child on the spectrum know what is best for your child. Don’t let anyone influence it in a negative way. My daughter knows without a doubt how much I love her and what I will do for her. The mere fact that she tells me “Mommy, you are my hero” gives me the strength and confidence that all I do is and will continue to be a direct reflection of the love I have for the love of my life…my amazing and beautiful daughter Emma!
I hope this story is not only an inspiration, but motivation that everything you do for your children will pay off.
Diana Fernandez is the mother of a beautiful autistic daughter named Emma. She is originally from Los Angeles, CA but moved to San Diego in July of 2013. Emma suffered two brain hemorrhages as a result of severe meconium aspiration and was born with bilateral clubfeet and a premature hip. She spent the first month of her life in the NICU with doctors not expecting her to live nor walk because of the extreme feet deformation but several surgeries have changed her life. When it was discovered brain hemorrhages affected her frontal lobe, Emma was immediately enrolled with the Regional Center. Today, she is a healthy 10-year-old involved with dance and is part of the Special Olympics Aquatic Team in San Diego. She receives ABA Therapy several times a week to include a Saturday Generalized Program which allows her to interact with the community with her friends and continue her road to independency. Emma enjoy trips to the zoo, park, beach, libraries and will take on any adventure as a family.
This article was featured in Issue 36 – Managing School Stressors