DEAR NATALIE: I have a child on the autism spectrum. We do a lot of therapy during the week. My child was in the crowded waiting room waiting for his therapy sessions. He was sitting at a table by himself playing and was in his own happy little world when an older child came over and snatched the toy from him, almost hitting his face. My child was startled at first and then looked at the boy and was about to run and grab it back when I called out, "Don't grab the toy," worried that my child may push or hit him out of anger. Keep in mind this child also has delays. I waited for the child's parent to step in.
After a minute, my child was starting to melt down. I called out to the waiting room for this child's parent (as I felt it would be inappropriate to directly speak to the boy as I didn't know how he would react). No adult responded. I finally said to the boy, "It wasn't nice to grab the toy. Can he please have it back?" I then redirected the child to a toy next to him and said, "That's a neat toy, would you like to play with this one instead?" Then the boy's mother came over and snatched the toy from her son and firmly put it on the table in front of my child and said, "Don't talk to my son that way." My child started to cry.
I will be seeing her every week since we are scheduled at the same times. I feel like I want to explain what happened. Any advice as to how to do this? -- MAMA BEAR
DEAR MAMA BEAR: Sometimes it's the parents who need therapy more than the kids. Not everyone is equipped to handle a child with special needs, especially when those needs are constant. The mother who snapped at you probably experiences intense challenges with her son and other aspects of her life and doesn't have the patience and coping skills that you do.
Someone very wise once told me, "Sure, Natalie, it's hard to be around that person, but can you imagine being that person?" A little compassion can go a long way. The next time you see her, walk up to her and say, "I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot. My name is .... If you ever want to exchange ideas while we are sitting here about how to juggle this whole 'mom' thing, I would love to chat." Say it with a smile. She will either be caught off guard and react positively (because you put her at ease and asked for her suggestions) or she will stare at you blankly and not react. Either way, you took the high road.
Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)