The Real Reason I Don’t Want My Non-Verbal Son Melting Down In Public

Picking my non-verbal son up from school has become an adventure. A few months ago, out of nowhere, he began having meltdowns when he circled the corner and saw it was time to go home.

I guess my face is that reminder to him or at least I hope that’s what it is. Whether the school lets him use his computer more than I do or gives him more snacks than I allow or what, I don’t know. All I know is that the sight of me makes him think he’s on fire, because he stops, drops, and rolls around.

Personally, it makes me feel awful. He’s over it within minutes and, by the time we peel him from the ground and start walking to the car, he’s fine. He’s hugging me and kissing my cheek and I have the same one-sided conversation with him over and over.

Thanks for the kisses, but you’re killing me, kid. They must think I do all sorts of weird things to you. Why do you keep doing this?

He doesn’t vocalize, obviously. Just kisses. He sees his iPad, snatches it up from the front passenger seat, and settles down into his spot.

Because of this terrible daily interaction, I’ve begun picking him up about 30 minutes early each day. Some days, he sees me and he freaks out. Some days, he walks through the door and gives me a hug. You never know what the day will bring. That’s why I haven’t returned to the regular pickup and still, months later, pick him up early.

back to school

The misguided belief would be that I opt for this earlier time because his meltdowns could embarrass me or annoy others. I think most people feel that’s the case. I know this because any time he’s upset somewhere and I try to calm him down or hush his cries, they’ll say to me:

Oh, it’s OK. You don’t have to worry about him crying or making noise.

It is a sweet sentiment and, while I appreciate where they are coming from, that just proves that we are not on the same page. My worry about his loud cries or flailing isn’t really about the people around us. I beg your pardon, but I don’t really care about any other people in that moment.

I care about him.

I’m not going to lie. I don’t love people staring at me, but it’s a pretty woke world nowadays. People don’t tsk-tsk and shake their heads at a meltdown from a little boy with autism. Most understand the way things are and they don’t judge me as a parent because my son is having a sensory issue. By and large, the world is more accepting, especially when they see a parent working to calm the situation.

This is especially true at pick-up. While there are many neurotypical children and families there, there are others on the spectrum at the doors. They get it. While I am far from a fan of getting attention from strangers, it’s not the reason I don’t want him melting down around a group of people.

As far as disturbing others, I don’t care about that either. Don’t get me wrong, I care about it in a restaurant or a stage show. Anywhere that quiet is expected, I try to ensure that he doesn’t ruin someone’s good time. But this is school pickup. It’s Lord of the Flies. Kids are throwing rocks at each other, for crying out loud. My son having a little fit isn’t anything that affects anyone else at that time.

The person I pick him up early for is him. He’s the main reason.

Those who only know my son from afar make certain assumptions. They assume that he doesn’t care about what people think and I can understand that. He comes off that way at times. They see him rolling around on the ground in tears, for what they assume is no reason, and guess that he’s indifferent to the crowd standing around him. He’s just upset, so he’s reacting.

Full transparency – I don’t know if that’s true. It may be true.

But what if it’s not? 

What if Lucas is aware of the people around him at pick-up? What if he knows that they are looking and doesn’t like it? What if he’s just so distraught by whatever it is that is upsetting him that he can’t stop himself from melting down in front of them? What if it bothers him that he has to do so, but the issues he’s facing are so severe and overwhelming that they make him fall to the ground? How terrible must that be? He can’t even use words to express his inner turmoil. No one would want an audience for that. 

Is that line of thinking a long shot? Maybe. I can’t say it’s 100% true. In fact, I lean more towards thinking it’s not. However, there is a chance. There’s more of a chance than anyone outside our home might expect. 

I say this because there have been times when I have watched him hold himself together. Lucas has been good in crowds or on his best behavior at social functions. The issue is that we can’t have a conversation together about it and he can’t confirm my suspicions. His actions, however, sometimes make me think, “Yeah. He gets it. He knows to try harder in group settings.”

That’s why watching him rolling around on the pavement around kids and parents breaks my heart. I wonder if whatever it is causing him so much anguish inside is what makes him forgo the social norms that he sometimes seems to conform to. I wonder if he’s embarrassed over his inability to hold it together. I wonder if he would want me, his father, to help him avoid these situations.

So, I do.

I get him early, even though it might not be convenient. I give him that sense of respect and care. I’d rather lose some time in the middle of the day than scrape him up off the ground in full view of an audience when such an act might bother him. If there’s even a tiny chance he wouldn’t want that, his father is going to help him avoid it.

I love him and, as my son, he deserves that much.