I was shopping with my 12 year old son at the Mall of Abilene a while back. Near the main entrance, we saw a small, maybe 5 year old boy, having what appeared to be an epic meltdown. With a mom holding the boy by the hand, the child screaming and trying his best to wiggle away to freedom. We’ve all witnessed this situation, right?

At this point, what are you thinking? Maybe “Geez, mom. Control your child.”, or “Get that kid out of here.”, or even “That kid needs a spanking.”. 

I noticed dad staying back several feet, patiently holding the hands of two other kids who were more composed. I wasn’t staring, but I soon realized that my son was taking in the scene a little too much. As we walked by the dad, he slipped my son a small card that read:

My child is NOT BAD.

My child has a complex neurological disorder called Autism. Autism causes the behaviors you just witnessed. To learn more about Autism, visit Autism-Society.org

So we took the advice on the card and learned more. When we got home, my son sat down at the computer and went to Autism-Society.org. This website gives an excellent overview of the challenges that families face, and some staggering statistics. My son and I learned that some form of autism is diagnosed in 1 in 110 children today. That’s a staggering number, which some experts consider to be an epidemic. We also learned that autism is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

I have a niece with autism, so I know a some about the great lengths her parents have gone to in order to help Hayley be as happy and high functioning as possible. Hayley is an adorable, sweet, incredibly intelligent 8 year old. She loves cameras, computers, and giving hugs anytime she gets a chance. Hayley sometimes gets nervous and uncomfortable when she is in unfamiliar places, which causes her to behave like the boy I saw in the store.

Raising a child with autism is no easy task. Not only to I have a new appreciation for that family we saw in the store, but I don’t think I’ll ever take my kids’ public behavior for granted again. And next time I see a child have an “epic meltdown” in public, I’ll have more sympathy for the situation, whether the kid is autistic or not.

Do you know anyone who has been – or has children – diagnosed with autism?