When Natalie Fernando and her autistic 5-year-old son Rudy were in the midst of suffering a meltdown, a kind stranger passing by took his time lay down next to the child, which comforted him and helped him calm down, and together they walked back to his mother’s car while smiling.
“This man, a total stranger saved me today,” Natalie wrote in a post online, “from either a meltdown lasting up to an hour or more, or the alternative, which is usually a bit of a beating from my boy who totally loses himself when he has a meltdown and can become very aggressive.”
Natalie’s boy Rudy has Autism, and autistic children can find it difficult to express their wants and needs. From a non-verbal child struggling to express their need for a drink, to a teenager finding it hard to express their emotions, this can result in overwhelming feelings, such as anger, frustration, and aggressiveness, leading to a meltdown. It’s not a condition which traditional discipline can help, and professionals recommend giving children time, space, and a calming example to help them get relief from their sensory overload.
“My son loves to walk, but he hates to turn around and walk back. We usually try to walk in a circuit to avoid this but on his favorite walk with the boats, we have no choice but to turn back. This will often lead to a meltdown, one which I can normally handle, but on the back of 2 weeks out of school, today was too much for him and me.”
Not everyone understands children with Autism, and mothers seen having a child who screams uncontrollably are often met by strangers with cold stares and harsh internal judgments.
“It got so bad at one point I didn’t go out for months,” Natalie said. “We’ve had plenty of comments saying he should be kept at home, people in outdoor spaces like National Trust parks telling us to shut him up, shoppers in supermarkets staring and commenting under their breath, you’d be surprised how mean people can be about a little boy, but to them, they just assume he’s badly behaved.”
“Only minutes before Rudy and I were being tutted at stared at and frowned at by a woman and a man with a 2 year old in a pram trying to sleep, despite me apologizing for my sons loud noises, hence the walk along the sea front so I can let him express himself outdoors. Short from gagging him I’m not sure of an alternative.”
Yet one kind man passing by, rather than judging, instead stopped to ask if Natalie was doing ok.
“This man, a total stranger, took time out of his day to just chat and ask if I was ok,” Natalie gratefully shared.
The passerby, Ian, met both Natalie and Rudy with smiles, and after learning that Rudy has Autism, proceeded to lay down on the ground next to him: to be his friend. He stayed there and chatted with the little guy until he was able to calm down.
“This man, my hero this morning, saw my son on the floor, and like any other person would assume that he was having a tantrum, he asked my little Roo what his name was. When I explained he didn’t really understand and that he is autistic and has a host of other challenges making this part of the walk difficult, he said, ‘That’s cool I’ll lay down with him.'”
Ian warmly chatted the whole time with Rudy and Natalie, and he even held the 5-year-old’s hand while he walking them back to their car.
“This man, a total stranger, was my hero this morning, and after laying with Roo, then walked Rudy and I all the way back to our car. I wish there were more of this man around and I am beyond thankful.”
It’s not always easy for mothers with autistic children, and the kindness from a stranger really brightened both Natalie’s and Rudy’s day.
“I am so thankful to this chap Ian, I will not forget his kindness. “In a world where you can be anything, be kind” words are easy [to speak], [but] these actions are not always so easy. This man is living the words, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Natalie hopes that people who see a child having a tantrum will be slower to judge, and more willing to be compassionate and to understand.
“If you see a parent struggling, maybe take the time to say, “are you ok?” Don’t judge the parenting, try not to judge the child, just be kind. We’re all walking our own path and navigating the journey the best we can, sometimes it takes a moment of kindness from a complete stranger to completely change your day. Thanks Ian from Southend Sea Front, you truly are a kind man…❤️”
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