July 29, 2016

When a young man told me he was sorry my son has autism

I went to the grocery store this evening.  It was one of those trips without a shopping list, so I was walking up and down the aisles of Publix getting things I forgot the first time I went down that aisle.  I finally got everything I needed, and of course I picked the line with the coupon issues.  Brandon made a ton of noise and some of his quirky body movements as we waited our turn.  He was happy though, and that's all I can ask for in that situation.

As the cashier was ringing me out, the bagger asked Brandon if he would like a sticker.  Brandon isn't able to respond to something like that, so I helped him out.  I said, "He would love a sticker."  The bagger looked a little puzzled, so I explained that Brandon has autism, and he isn't able to speak well enough to tell you that we would like one.  I know he would love one though.  I then realized his puzzled look was actually that he was looking for the stickers.  He replied, "I'm sorry."  So I said brightly, "Oh, are you out of stickers?"  He said "No, they're right here."  My face fell as it hit me that he was saying he was sorry that my son has autism.

I could have gone off on him.  I wanted to.  I could have shamed him by saying, "I'm not sorry about my son.  Don't say you're sorry.  My son is fearfully and wonderfully made, and my son is nothing to apologize for."

But I didn't.

I just smiled and said thank you for the sticker.

He asked if I would like help out to my car, and I told him I would.  He then asked me if my son would be okay with him pushing the cart.  It was very thoughtful of him to consider that it might upset him.  I told him that he would be fine, and that I appreciated him considering that.  I started thinking I was kind of glad I didn't go off on him. 

Walking out to the car, this bagger told my son to steer him in the right direction of the car.  (We were in one of those kid's car carts.)  As he put everything in my trunk, I started buckling Brandon in his carseat.  Brandon was already in the car, and couldn't really see him anymore, but the young man called out, "Bye Brandon!" with a huge grin on his face and his hand waving in the air.

My head darted up in surprise, and I smiled at him as he walked the cart back into the store.  My eyes immediately welled up with tears at this awkward goodbye from this grocery store bagger who had just hurt my feelings minutes before.

Consider this.  If I had attacked this young man for his "I'm sorry" comment, it is clear that it would have crushed him.  He would have gone home tonight feeling awful, and would probably vow to himself to shy away from any other autism families he meets.  For nothing could feel worse than upsetting a mother like that, and he wouldn't want to get publicly shamed again.  Many special needs parents get their feelings hurt and are quick to blast someone for a thoughtless comment.  (And I am not talking about those cruel people who have deliberate unkind things to say.  Those people are a totally different story...I'll go off on those folks all day long.)  The other thing we do is not say something, and then lay awake half the night seething about the comment, and what we wish we had said.  

Before your child had autism, did you know the perfect thing to say to a special needs parent?  I'm sure you didn't.  To be perfectly honest, I still don't.  I have several friends who have children with special needs, and since children are so different (especially those with autism), I'm sure I have said the wrong things.  My closest friends and even my own family have hurt my feelings with comments they have made.  We need to have grace with people we come across so we can educate them as best we can in those fleeting moments.  This young man at Publix didn't know what to say.  He said the wrong thing, and it's very likely he had no idea that he had done so.  Giving him grace in that moment allowed me to see what a kind heart he had, and the effort he made to connect with this little boy he just met.


  1. I know what you mean. I feel like I say the wrong thing even to other parents of kids with autism. We're all just muddling through the best we can. :) For the record, you've never said ANYTHING to offend me in the slightest! I feel like everything you say and write is so thoughtful and well-articulated. :)

    1. Well thank you, Heather! You haven't ever said to wrong thing to me either. <3

  2. Hello! I am your newest follower and loved your post. I look forward to reading more. Have a great weekend and happy blogging!

    Jen @ Professional Bloggers Association


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