One of the scariest experiences I've ever had with my son was during a play date at the park. I was with another friend, who has two sons with autism. My kids and hers were having a ball playing, when another boy approached them and asked to play with them as well. I had seen his mom, who was there on a play date with another family, and knew she was helping her kids on the swings. I'm one of those moms who pays attention to who's kid belongs to who when I'm at the park and am very aware of our surroundings in case our son decides to run away.
The kids played together for about twenty minutes, when my son asked if he could ride the little boy's trike. The boy said yes and that all the kids could take turns. My son happened to be the first, and rode the trike down the sidewalk and into the tennis court where he turned around. The kids ran behind him, yelling and laughing, while my friend and I walked behind them. I remember seeing the other kids' mom stalk into the tennis court. From the way she was carrying herself, I could tell she was upset about something. I quickened my pace, then began to run as I saw her yell at my son, grab his arm and start yanking him off the bike. She kept pulling him against the handlebars while he screamed and cried until he came free of the bike, then held him suspended in the air for a few minutes, and dropped him onto the court where he landed on his knees and rolled away. All of my children were bawling and came running to me, clinging to my legs.
Then the mother came screaming at me about how I'm such a bad mother and that I needed to keep better track of my kids. How they had no right to be on her son's bike, etc. I remember I just wanted to rip this woman's face off. I wanted to punch her until she couldn't ever speak again. How DARE she touch my son! I remember repeating over and over, "You don't ever touch someone else's child." while she continued to tell me I was a horrible mother. I told her my son had autism and I was shocked when she said, "Well congratulations, my son does too."
I turned away and took my kids to the picnic table. There were already bruises forming across my son's chest from where she yanked him against the trike's bars, as well as bruises on his arm from where she had grabbed him. I put my kids into my van and called my husband who worked two blocks away from the park. He left a meeting to come meet us. Along the way, there was an officer on the side of the road. My husband approached him and told him our son had just been assaulted at the park. The officer accompanied my husband to the park.
The woman became so upset, yelling and screaming at the officer, he had to call back-ups and they threatened to call DCFS if she didn't calm down. She was charged with child abuse and a few other things. This is just the beginning of a long, disappointing battle.
Our lawyers talked. She wanted a lesser charge because she wanted to adopt more children. We found out she really does have a son with autism. I couldn't imagine how she treated her family based on her conduct that day. Do you know what we asked for? We asked that she take anger management and parenting classes. The best thing I could think of was counseling to deal with situations better - especially since raising a child with special needs is extremely stressful.
The results? The judge gave her a smack on the wrist (she did get a lesser charge of child abuse because we wouldn't budge on it) and said we were holding up the courts over a misunderstanding during a play date. I still have very upset feelings about the results.
I walked away from this incident with a whole new set of fears.
What if one day my son wanders off? What if a police officer interprets his behavior as aggressive and unco-operative? What if someone thinks it's a domestic violence situation during one of his melt-downs, especially with him getting older and bigger? What if, one day, I can't protect him and help others understand him anymore?
I am truly afraid of how others misinterpret my son. I see all this progress he's made and I see the joy and love he has inside. But I also see the difficulties he has in certain situations and how upset he can become.
My friend, Teri, sent me a link to this video from Utah's KSL news station. I'm not sure if the video below will work or not. If it doesn't, click on the video link and it will take you to the KSL website.
In the news clip, they talk about Sahara Cares and their new DVD teaching law enforcement officers how to recognize signs of autism in children, teens, and adults, as well as how to communicate and help them in a variety of situations. It was difficult for me to watch because it brought all those fears to the surface, but it's actually a very informative video. You can watch it for free on their website. It's available for purchase for just $5, basically the cost of supplies and shipping. You can watch the DVD here.