Amanda Wilkins, mom to two blind, autistic children from the United Kingdom, was in the grocery store earlier this week when both her kids started melting down. This happens a lot to me with my own autistic son, so I know how hard it can be to shop with a child who's overwhelmed and getting increasingly more frustrated. My son is not blind, however, so I can only imagine that a grocery store trip is especially challenging for Wilkins and her children. Luckily, this week a kind clerk helped her get through it by engaging her daughter. Wilkins turned to Facebook to share her gratitude saying:
"I would like to say a massive thank you to the lady in the photo...who helped me today at [the grocery store] Morrisons in Basingstoke. I have two children that are both registered blind and are also autistic. As you can imagine shopping is not an easy thing for me to do, at the checkout both girls decided to go into meltdown and this very kind lady decided to help instead of judge. It doesn't happen very often! She distracted my daughter by letting her scan all my shopping. A dream come true for Holly who loves playing 'shops'. It melts my heart to come across people that are prepared to go the extra mile, and little acts of kindness makes a massive difference to my world...."
The post has been shared thousands of times, and I'm so happy Wilkins got some help. Too often I've seen people stare as my son melts down, and often I find myself wishing for more help, acceptance, or just a kind word.
But how do we get that? How do we help more people understand the difference between meltdowns and tantrums? How can we show them that our children are not trying to act out, but rather they're having a really hard time? How can we help them imagine the challenges our kids face?
This sort of change comes from sharing our stories—like Wilkins did—and also from efforts by advocates to promote inclusion and raise acceptance. Last month was Autism Acceptance Month, and I wrote about a thought-provoking video that shows what a trip to the mall is like for an autistic child.
In the same vein, I want to also highlight BlindNewWorld, "the first-ever blind awareness social change campaign," which just launched this month. It's sponsored by Perkins School for the Blind (that's the school Helen Keller went to), and it hopes "to demystify blindness and break down the barriers to inclusion– discomfort, pity, fear and stigma....and inspire the sighted population to open its eyes to the full social, professional and academic capabilities of the blind population." The BlindNewWorld website plans to do this through PSAs, quizzes, stories, tips, and more.
Hopefully all of these efforts will ensure that people show more kindness to families like the Wilkins—and my own—every day, and in both the most extraordinary or the most mundane situations.