Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam; one world one family: an inclusive world, and accepting world, a world that belongs to all!
In June 2019, we were to come to India from the USA and I was dreading the trip. Traveling with a child with sensory processing disorder can be taxing and anxiety-inducing in many ways, especially in long, space confined, constricted, crowded, and full of various noises medium, which is any transport but for some reason, aircraft are worst.
Sonny Boy is hypersensitive to noise. A big catalyst to his meltdown is small babies and toddlers crying. (Very weird, and I don’t know why maybe it’s the pitch and frequency). It has escalated to a point that it was tough in school as well (and that’s why you see him in those bright ear muffs!). It affects him so much that even my ears are in hyper-alert mode and I can hear the noises which affect him. And boy, he is nonverbal by choice, and though can speak, he chooses not to, or he may repeat what we say very softly, but when he screams during meltdowns, it’s like a banshee screaming! And that is an understatement!
Imagine a flight, during summer vacations with families flying down to their homeland, tiny newborns in tow, and small kids jumping and playing and crying! At the airport, I was pretty certain we will be de-boarded. Airports are spacious and quiet, which means any shrill noise is easily heard. You can imagine what followed, lots of angry stares, lots!
When a disability is invisible, all people see is a brat having a tantrum and useless ineffective careless parents. They can’t see what is making a child behave this way, that there is a difference between tantrums and meltdowns, how helpless we as parents feel. I kept rocking him like a baby, I shushed him, shut his ears with my palm, sang made-up songs loudly in public in my ugly voice, tried to distract him with food, took him to an empty stall in one of the washrooms to let him cry it out, handed over my phone, nothing helped… nothing. Queues were even more harrowing, the wait and everything were too much for him. And even though we had informed the airlines about his issues, it wasn’t much of a help. So with lowered head, avoiding eye contact, smiling apologetically, verbally apologizing to people about something neither our child nor us had any control over, for something he is born with, we proceeded.
And then a beautiful thing happened. A woman, in line ahead of us, turned and smiled at me, an encouraging smile, a ‘thumbs up’ smile, a smile that said that she understands. That one smile was like redemption. When we finally landed in Kolkata and were waiting for our luggage, this lady walked past us again smiling. Overcoming my social anxiety, I decided to tell her, how her one smile, was like the silver lining. And I told her that.
“Excuse me, I just wanted to thank you, for that kind smile at Doha airport. He is autistic and has SPD, he couldn’t control his feelings and despite the ruckus he caused, you smiled…”
“What are you talking about! he is a child. He did what a child does! You don’t need to say thanks!” and she bent down to hug my boy and went her own way.
I hope she will remember us with a smile. And continue to shine others with that smile. I will always remember her kindness. And I will do what she did, be kind.
In my journey with autism in life, for every 100 angry stares and raised eyebrows, I also meet one beautiful person like that who always made those 100 stares irrelevant…And I also learned that we shouldn’t hesitate in telling people if they did something beautiful.
April 2nd is observed as #WorldAutismAwarenessDay but kindness need not be limited to just one day. You don’t need just one day to give that kind encouraging smile to someone out there. Awareness need not be about terms, lingos, google and books and articles and marches and protests, and marathons. All you need to start with is one kind smile!