It took me two days to mentally prepare to take Ben for a haircut. There have been a lot of changes for him lately with moving from a small town to the city. New house. New school. New bus. New routines. Change is not easy for anyone, but for a kid with Autism, it can cause extreme anxiety. I am happy to say that for the most part, Ben has been adjusting very well. However I was worried about his first hair cut in the city. Miss Goldie gave him his very first hair cut as a baby, and pretty much every one he has had since then. He doesn’t like to get his hair cut and will sometimes get upset and resist. Miss Goldie knows how to get the job done, but I wasn’t so sure about a city slicker hair stylist! Surprisingly, Ben was very cooperative, which I can only attribute to the fact that I bribed him: “First hair cut, then a new DVD at Walmart.”
Although the hair cut went well, my palms were sweating as we headed towards the DVD display. I know Ben’s pattern very well. He will have his heart set on a particular DVD and if it is not there, watch out! As feared, Ben took a quick look at the DVD display and let out a blood curdling scream, “THOMAS DVD! THOMAS DVD!” There were no Thomas DVD’s. An unexpected change. Panic for Ben! I noticed people moving away from us, even the sales associates seemed to suddenly disappear. In his state of heightened anxiety, Ben started to cry while flapping his hands and jumping around. Knowing what a commotion Ben’s meltdowns can cause, I just wanted to get him out the store as quickly as possible.
As I dragged him through the main aisle of Walmart, people darted out of our way, giving me that “bad mommy” look; some of them blatantly staring and pointing. They seemed to look at Ben as if he was a dangerous lunatic wielding a weapon, as opposed to an 11 year old boy brandishing the lollipop that he had just earned for being well behaved at the hair dresser’s. I held my head high. I was used to the judgemental stares and dirty looks. I had grown a thick skin over the years. They weren’t going to get to me!
As we neared the exit, Ben decided that he deserved another treat, a pack of hubba bubba bubble gum. With bated breath, I took him to the gum display, terrified that his preferred flavor was not there, which would certainly result in another melt down. People waiting in the line behind us impatiently tapped their debit cards, as Ben took his time to browse the display.
“Hurry up, Ben. There are people waiting”, I said, feeling more and more anxious with each passing second.
The elderly lady working the cash smiled at me and said, “That’s fine. Let him take his time and choose his treat.”
When he finally picked his gum, she spoke to Ben very kindly, “Would you like me to put this in a bag for you? My grandson has autism too. He likes to have his things put in a bag that he can carry himself.”
I paid the cashier, but with the big lump in my throat, I was barely able to speak to her.
As I walked to the car, I could no longer hold back my tears. I cried. Not because of the rude way that Ben was treated by the strangers that we encountered on our outing. I was used to that. I experience it nearly every time I take Ben out in public. I don’t let them get to me. What moved me to tears was the kindness of this lady who, despite Ben’s unusual behaviors, treated him with the dignity and respect that he deserves. That is what finally got to me.