Outbursts in public: When to step in and when to keep out.

You probably all have experience with outbursts/meltdowns – either yourself if you have autism, or your child with autism – losing control, shouting, hitting, spitting, and calling names.  These can be difficult enough to deal with when you are at home, but if you are out in a public place it can be much more difficult and embarrassing.  But this blog isn’t even particularly about the outbursts themselves – this blog is about something that gets me incredibly angry when I think about it – now a lot of things get me angry, but this gets me angrier than most.  It is something me and my Mum have experienced first-hand on dozens of occasions, and something most of you have probably been through.  I am talking about people interfering when somebody is having an outburst or meltdown.

Generally, this takes the form of somebody voicing their opinions on the autistic person and their behaviour, and also the parenting skills of the parent involved. In our own experience, a lot of people would tell my Mum that I needed a `good slap` or a `good hiding` when I was young and having an outburst.  Now, putting aside the fact that a fully grown man saying that a young child deserves a `hiding` is pretty odd and probably says a lot more about his personality than it does the child`s – I like to focus more on this issue – why vocalise it?  Even if you are walking down the street and you see a child looking like they are having a temper tantrum, why do you think that what the parent needs at that time is your words of wisdom?  If someone is clearly struggling to cope with their child as it is, what advice are you going to offer up to them that is going to so completely change their situation – “he needs a good slap” – Ahh, genius, thank you for enlightening us?  For those of you reading who might not understand sarcasm – that was a pretty good example of it?  There is so much wrong with going up and criticising how a parent is handling something; one, is that you have no idea what is going on for that child – you are assuming that they are some kind of spoiled brat – you have no clue if they have autism or any other condition that may affect their behaviour.  Two, you are assuming that the parent has no control over the situation – you think that they are doing something wrong, but really what business is it of yours?  Three, if they are struggling to cope, the last thing they need is a complete stranger coming over and interfering.  And Four, whether you hit your own children or not is up to you – I personally don’t see the benefits of showing children that physical violence against somebody smaller than you is ok if they were doing something you didn’t like, or if they didn’t listen to you.  But putting that to one side, coming up to somebody in the street and calling them a bad parent is liable to get you a smack, rather than the child.  And in truth it would be hugely deserved.

My advice to anyone who sees a child having an outburst or meltdown in the street, or in any public place, would be to just mind your own business.  Don’t criticise somebody without knowing what it is they are going through, and don’t presume to think that they are just standing there waiting for you to go over and impart words of wisdom to them.  Going over and asking if the parent is ok, and if you can do anything for them is alright, but don’t have a go at the child, because ninety nine percept certain all this will do is make things worse.  I have always found it funny how people are so unwilling to intervene if they see somebody being attacked or mugged in the street, but if they see a Mum struggling with a young child all of a sudden they realise they`ve got something to say.  As I say, me and my Mum have experienced this on dozens of occasions and I know lots of other people have as well.  The best advice I can give you is just to ignore these people.  It is more important to look after your child and yourself, than to waste breath conversing with people too ignorant to be worthy of a response. 


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