What If They’re Mean To My Special Needs Child?

I don’t want to say I thought it every time I sent him out into the world, as I’m pretty sure that would be an exaggeration. But although it has started to slow down in the later years, I would often worry before we went anywhere. Whether we were going to a party, parade, or sit-down restaurant with my non-verbal son, it would cause a great deal of scenarios to play out in my head. None were ever good.

The issue is that the world is what it is and, in my eyes, my son is the purest human being I ever met. His intentions are good and his instincts are loving. He doesn’t lash out or attack. He’s not mean or cruel. He’s my favorite boy in the world and, he’s pretty vulnerable. A disposition like that is beautiful, but the world out there wasn’t, right? I knew it. Something would happen and I would have be tasked to defend him. That’s why, as our outing drew nigh,  I would immediately begin asking myself a series of questions that only made things worse.

What if everyone is mean to him? All of them? It happens. I know how people are. I think back to every grainy black and white evil caretaker video splashed on the news. I imagine someone treating my son that way and I get angry. Then I think about every joke I heard someone tell before he was ever born ( and some accidentally after) that used a child like mine as the punchline. I think about any I may have made in that time too. That’s the worst part. I beat myself up but, most of all, I worry. I know that people are out there who think poorly of people like him. I have heard them laugh before. I have been around them. I know they are out there.  What if they’re all back and what if they’re all mean?

Even if we’re not interacting with people directly, I’m still paranoid. I start crafting these showdowns at a museum slide show or an Applebee’s where some dude at some table can’t keep his beadie little eyes on his Turky O’Toole. Look at them – people looking at my son. People staring at my son. People earning my ire by judging my son! I envision it all with vengeance and fire. What if they stare at him?


When these mental mind-games played out, I never pictured just one single event acting out. I picture every single event acting out. Every negative thing that could ever happen gets a split second roll through my brain as I envision a parade of ‘80s movie bullies pushing the special needs kid into a locker or down the stairs. My brain reminds me of the absolute horror stories that we share with each other on Facebook about the depths of depravity that make the news for their interactions with people like my favorite boy. I imagine the scenes I read about in those cases taking place with my son in the victim role. I imagine my reaction and that sends my mind into a whole other Kill Bill rabbit hole. I shudder to think that a day at the park would lead to me being in jail, but my imagination takes me there. What if today is the day that I have to fight ninjas and barbarians to avenge my son’s honor? What if they anger us?

Many more thoughts go through my brain, but those are the main ones. If you merge them together, they all boils down to one question, though. What if all the people in the world treat my son poorly?

The answer – Yeah, but what if they don’t?

There’s a reason that question starts to die down as our children age. It’s not smarts, it’s wisdom. It’s because I’ve taken my son out and, by and large, there are far more kind, caring, and loving people than my Grinch-like outlook ever believed. If you had surveyed me before we had a special needs child and then again today about what to expect in public, the results would be staggeringly different. I can honestly say, I didn’t expect it..

There have been no fist fights at the aquarium or car chases past the waterpark. Instead there have been strangers offering snacks on a plane, teachers who love him, and Applebees customers who just sat there eating their Applebees. I like to think I have something to do with it. They see that I do my part to make sure he doesn’t invade anyone’s space. I watch him and look after him. In the event that he does something considered socially “wrong”, I apologize for it. That’s right. It’s got to be my bad-ass dad-ness that earns us the thumbs up. Well, that and the fact that most people aren’t looking to be rude for no reason. Sure, some are. They stink. Most aren’t. During all my times worrying about the jerk lurking in town, I never thought about the good ones who far outnumber him.

It’s not easy to do, but I’ve learned to go into things with a positive mindset as Lucas has gotten older. I try to avoid that knot-in-the-stomach feeling before we have to sit in the waiting room of his pediatrician or worry about how he will “handle” watching his sister perform a school concert. The way to do that is to remind myself that it’s never the nightmare that I anticipate. In pretty much every case, it’s been a positive experience with this kid. My son is great, the people are great. And, even when he’s not great, they’re still usually great. I’m writing our life as a thriller in my brain, but it’s really more of a Disney Plus series.

No matter what the percentage of bad vs. good outings washes out to be, the good are out there. We’ve all lived them and, as a person who spent decades looking for the worst in everyone, it takes a lot to give them the benefit of the doubt. I have though because, for the most part, they’ve proven themselves over time. Will they let me down time and again? Probably.

But they won’t every time. If I keep waiting for someone to be rude, I’ll miss all the people who are being kind. And, compared to the rude ones, there’s a lot more of them to think about.

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(JG Note: For those who don’t know, I am the new Breaking News Analyst and a writer at BabyGaga.com, a site dedicated to pregnancy and new parents. From research studies to Chrissy Teigan, I’ve been covering it all. Please check it out and bookmark my author’s page at this link to see everything that I have been working on.)