It was spring break, and mother of four Megan Goates took her 12-year-old son Jack, who has autism, on a rare trip to Costco to pick up his favorite treat, buffalo chicken bites. She had nearly made it through the checkout line when Jack began making loud noises as he threw groceries on the conveyor belt, pushed his way past an older woman, and smacked the head of an innocent bystanding child.
Goates recalled looking at the child's mother who was understandably irate, wanting so badly to explain the situation. Instead she had to grab her "large, tall disabled teen and hold on to him as [we] speed-walked to the car," she wrote.
Completely mortified by the situation, Goates took to her blog to write a note to the child's mother in a post titled, "Dear Mom of the Boy at Costco Whose Head My Kid Smacked Yesterday.
In her note, Goates begins with an apology to the child's mother, stating, "I am really sorry. Really, really, truly sorry. I would've liked to have given you a better explanation than calling out, 'I'm so sorry. He has autism' as I ran after Jack."
In her post, Goates went on to explain the situation from her perspective, then continued her apology by writing things she wished she could have said in the moments following Jack's outburst.
"Is your son okay? Are you okay?" she wrote. "… I'm sorry that my child's behavior added trauma to your shopping trip and your overall afternoon. … Before you condemn me and my enormous red-haired nonverbal teen, please know that the unpredictability and uncontrollable outburst you saw today are my daily life. This is every day for us, and I can't fix it or escape it. Thank you for making an effort to understand.
"… Parenting is hard, amirite? It feels impossible when my big, violent son is physically strong but mentally low-functioning and it's Spring Break and we don't have any respite programs available and he needs to do something and we thought we could try going somewhere. Anyhoo, bless you.
" … I forgive you for hating me and my child in that moment when his disabilities manifested in aggression toward your innocent son. I'm working through forgiving myself for feeling like an inadequate embarrassment of a woman."
While Goates, who has three children on the autism spectrum, may feel alone in her battle, she is not. In fact, according to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder. Recent reports cite Utah as having the fourth-highest rate of autism prevalence out of 11 participating states — numbers that have largely been attributed to growing awareness, not increased cases.
Even with the growing number of resources and support groups, Goates says she still wants to bring about compassion and understanding toward families like hers whose life autism affects every day.
"Much of the purpose of my writing is to bring awareness to people about what life is like with disabilities," she told KSL. "I've found that the more people understand about the challenges families like ours face, the kinder and more accepting they are of these types of differences. They start to see kids with autism as people, rather than a diagnosis which may be unfamiliar and, frankly, scary.
"My children are unique. They are terrific, charming, funny, quirky, loving, helpful, and possess a deep-seated sweetness. They have given me much more as their mother than I have given them. They've transformed me.
"Part of autism acceptance is realizing and understanding that some disabilities manifest in difficult and inappropriate behaviors. The disability doesn't excuse the behavior, but it is the reason behind it — not poor parenting or a child simply 'acting like a brat.' True acceptance comes when we see the person and not just the behavior or the trappings of the disability. When we try to understand the whole person and accept him exactly as he is, we begin to see the person at the core — someone with strengths and gifts and something unique to offer the world, just like the rest of us."
Read Goates' post on her blog at tooursurvival.com.