Long before I knew anything about autism, let alone that my boys and I are all on the spectrum, I feared going out alone with them—intensely. I never felt like I was equipped to handle more than one child in public at a time, or while I run errands or grocery shop (anything that needs my attention). I observed an endless trail of women with two, three, four children in tow navigating the supermarket, or parking lots. The children holding hands, sitting the shopping cart, and immediately responding to their mother’s instructions—mine never did.
To make this worse, I was completely and utterly flustered by my own surroundings, and overwhelmed in most situations when I had the kids in tow. When my oldest was very young we attempted to dine out with friends, which was a complete disaster. Screaming, crying, flailing on the floors—my child could not sit restaurants. When my second was born, I attempted to shop with the two of them but he would dart right out into traffic away from me, or run out of the supermarket while I tried to pay the cashier during checkout. I tried to hold onto my oldest, while running after the little one completely abandoning shopping cart, purses, or a running vehicle.
I never understood what the problem was, what was wrong with me. Why was I such a terrible mother? Why could I not handle what other women did, or make my children behave like others could? I honestly couldn’t understand. I thought all children were exactly like mine, and it was just me that could not control them. I was miserable and guilt ridden constantly, so I rarely left the house.
Now I understand that my autism kept me flustered and overwhelmed and their autism kept them in flailing, screaming, running meltdowns. Knowing, however, does not lessen the fear I still feel and my inability to really go out alone with more than one child. And this is something I find that NT parents, friends, and family–without autistic children—just do not understand.