• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Autism: When You Fear Going Out Alone with Your Child

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 imagined that I would have to live through this. I shouldn’t be worried about leaving the house with them, but the reality is is that I am. When I first had to do it after they were diagnosed, I nearly considered looking at this parent coaching for autism to see if I could learn how to do tasks such as these in ways that I can manage. I just needed to find something that would help because this was starting to become a nightmare for me. 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.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. I can so relate. My son isn’t on the spectrum but he has challenges. I get overwhelmed so easily by his behavior and I also don’t like to take him out alone. I also look at other parents and they seem to handle it better than me but of course other parents will say how hard it is too and my mom will make it sound like it’s normal but no no I feel I deal with this all the time. Also other kids seem to act better than my own child.

    • The biggest shock I had was when I learned that other parents DID NOT deal with the same issues. I always thought it was just me, I couldn’t handle it, I was a terrible parent…why oh why is this soooo hard?? Then I discovered that other children were not quite like my own, or me for that matter… an eye-opening moment.

  2. No its not just you. I do not have autism but both of my boys are on the spectrum. When my youngest was born and my oldest, still not yet dxed, was 3 i took them both to the park. My oldest decided he didn’t want to leave and ran away and hid. I lost decades until I found him. Luckily another mother saw where he was and told me. After that i told the hubby that I wasn’t going out alone with the two of them ever again. As they got older, he was dxed at 5, and therapy began to sink in, it did get easier to go out with them both because the oldest knew what it was to listen and to behave in public. (His program actually would take them out to the exact supermarket i shopped at.)

    This story is by way to let you know, you are NOT alone. And the fact that you find it difficult to deal with two autistic children in public is not necessarily due to your autism. It can be an overwhelming event period for anyone.

    • Thank you Elise. It is nice to know that is not just me, and that those who do not struggle with the issues that I do, also struggle with their ASD kids. That is actually quite encouraging, definitely makes me feel less alone. One of the first things that shocked me after our autism diagnosis is to find out that everyone didn’t do through the same things we did. That all children were not like mine–or me for that matter. Before that I just believed that it was me, my bad parenting (after all that is what everyone tells you–even if disguised as helpful advice.) You know the kind…make them behave, don’t give in to them, a good spanking…my personal favorite “If that were my kid…” So the realization was actually quiet comforting.

  3. I’m so glad I am not the only one. I often feel bad about not taking thekids when I run errands.

  4. My heartfelt sympathies. I’ve had to work hard at this too. Anywhere with crowds, anywhere more than half an hour from home and I’m in fight/flight mode and supermarkets are hell.

    Occasionally, my friends with children will force me to take them somewhere new – I do wonder if I’m stunting their development by being so unadventurous 🙁

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