An Open Letter to the Stranger Who Scolded My Child in Public

     I really didn’t like you at first, I’m not going to lie. My seven year old loves The Sound of Music movie. He happily sings the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs at home as he plays and it warms my heart. My son loves the theater, too. When I saw the play was coming to the Bushnell Theater, deciding to take him was a no brainer.

    You were seated directly in front of him. The show hadn’t even started yet. You turned around, smiled at him, and asked him to stop kicking your seat. I felt mortified. There was a lot of noise in the theater as people were filtering in and my son and I had been chatting. I didn’t realize he accidentally kicked the back of your seat. I apologized instantly and when my son heard me apologize, he apologized too. I told you he would take off his shoes and he would try to be more careful. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough. Your smile faded and in a stern tone you said to my son “One time would have been okay, but you did it twice and that isn’t kind!” I interrupted you before you could insult my son again and repeated he would remove his shoes and be more careful. “My son has a movement disorder,” I added. “Well, I didn’t know that!” you snapped as you turned quickly back around.

    A lump formed in my throat. You don’t know better, I told myself. Honestly, most people don’t. My son has primary motor stereotypies. He has repetitive, purposeless movements that are regularly triggered by emotions like excitement, fear, anxiety, and even sadness. Most often, my son moves his hands while contorting his fingers, but sometimes he moves his legs, head, and mouth, too. He can control the movements, but it takes a lot of effort. His movements are obvious and sometimes people stare. Some children with autism have motor stereotypies, but my son has motor stereotypies without autism. His movements are more like tics and they began when he was two and a half years old. There is no medication or cure for primary motor stereotypies. My son is acutely aware he isn’t like everyone else. That’s the hard part.  

    Oh, and people like you are the hard part. You look nice enough, perhaps in your late sixties. There was a boy that accompanied you to the show. I had to quell my disdain for you after you scolded my son, so I imagined you are a nice grandmother taking your grandson out for the afternoon. My son took off his shoes. During the show I extended my right leg and wedged it against the back of your chair. My leg could act as a buffer in case my son’s feet accidentally moved again, which they did many times throughout the performance. When my right leg grew tired, I switched it with my left leg, then back again to my right leg…you get the picture. My quads got quite the workout. I endured the discomfort so you wouldn’t turn around and scold my son again. He doesn’t need you to make him feel bad about himself.

    At intermission you did something amazing. You turned around again, smiled at my son, and said “You are such a good boy and you are behaving so nicely! Your mother must be very proud of you.” Well, I wasn’t expecting THAT to happen! I wanted to hug you. I’m used to people misjudging my son and, honestly, I could care less what they think. I do care what they say to my son, though. I don’t want them to undermine his confidence and sense of self-worth. I don’t want their words to become my son’s inner voice. No one has ever misjudged my son and then tried to right the wrong the way you did. Maybe you reflected on your actions as you watched the first act and felt bad. Thank you for understanding that sitting still is harder for my son than other children and he isn’t misbehaving when he moves. Thank you for treating my son with dignity and kindness. My son is a good boy and thank you for telling him that. You are a good person, too. You made a mistake, you corrected it, and you made my son feel good about himself. I truly wish there were more people in the world like you.

From the bottom of my heart,

A most grateful mom

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