A mom from the U.K. was heartened when a stranger opted to take time to see if she and her son were OK. And the moment has gone viral.

By Maressa Brown
May 28, 2021
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An image of Natalie's son, Rudy and Ian Shelley.
Credit: Courtesy of Natalie from Better to Be Different.

Whether you've dealt with eyerolls on an airplane or unsolicited advice from fellow grocery store shoppers during a child's meltdown, you've likely found yourself wishing that strangers could offer you far more compassion and less judgment. That's how a U.K.-based mom named Natalie Fernando felt on a recent seaside walk with her 5-year-old son Rudy who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. He has global development delay, speech and language difficulties, sensory processing disorder, and learning difficulties.

"My son loves to walk, but he hates to turn around and walk back, we usually try to walk in a circuit to avoid this, but on his favorite walk with the boats, we have no choice but to turn back," wrote the mom on her Facebook page Better to be Different. "This will often lead to a meltdown, one which I can normally handle. But on the back of two weeks out of school, today was too much for him and me."

Rudy ended up having a meltdown, lying face down on the ground screaming and crying. "Rudy and I were being tutted at stared at and frowned at by a woman and a man with a 2-year-old in a pram trying to sleep despite me apologizing for my son's loud noises, hence the walk along the seafront so I can let him express himself outdoors," shared Fernando. "Short from gagging him, I'm not sure of an alternative."

That's when Ian Shelley stopped to ask the mom if everything was OK. Shelley, who was training for a 250-mile running race, decided to lay on the ground with Rudy to talk to him.

Fernando described the moving moment: "This man, my hero, this morning saw my son on the floor and, like any other person, would assume that he was having a tantrum. He asked my little Roo what his name was, and when I explained he didn't really understand, his response was, 'That's cool. I'll lay down with him.'"

The experience led Fernando to urge people not to judge parents having a tough time out in public. "If you see a parent struggling, maybe take time to ask if they are OK," she wrote. "We're all walking our own path and navigating the journey the best we can, sometimes it takes a moment of kindness from a complete stranger to completely change your day. Thanks, Ian from Southend Sea Front. You truly are a kind man."

The post quickly went viral. The BBC later spoke to Fernando who noted, "I just cannot believe how it has reached so many people that either have special needs in their life and can relate, [or] more importantly those that do not have special needs in their life, being able to see how important it is for us to not be judged and showing others how much it means to us and our children to be accepted for what they are."

As for Shelley's part, the runner said he has made "two new friends for life," adding, "Kindness really does cost nothing, also kindness begets kindness."