Cynthia Tipton was having dinner with her family at Bandana's in the St. Louis area when she saw the look on her son's face. She knew what was coming.
Her 14-year-old daughter, Sophie, had been kidding around with her little brother, Noland. He got embarrassed by her mild teasing. He started screaming and crying. Loudly.
Noland, 10, has high-functioning autism.
His meltdown caught Tipton by surprise. She walked over to his chair, knelt down next to him, began rubbing his back and whispering in his ear: "You're being kind of loud. It's OK, buddy. Sophie was just teasing. Let's calm down. Let's be a little quieter. You're safe."
The screaming continued for a few minutes.
She felt self-conscious and could tell her father, who was dining with them, was embarrassed, too.
Then, it was like a switch flipped and her son calmed down. When the waitress walked over, her father was convinced another diner had complained and they were going to be banned from the restaurant.
That had happened once, when Noland was 4, and there had been a few times when Tipton had taken her son screaming and crying from a restaurant.
The waitress did, indeed, bring a message from another customer.
Another family had paid for their dinner. On the receipt, the strangers wrote, "Hi! We couldn't help but notice what a great mother you are and what a beautiful family you have. God bless."
Tipton, who recently opened an indoor gym for children on the autism spectrum and their families, was speechless. The family had already left, so she had no way to respond to such a gracious act of kindness.
"Being a parent is tough," she said. "Being an autism parent is really tough."
Strangers have no way of knowing that her child is not just being a brat. He has to work much harder than other children his age to control his emotions.
She came home Thursday night and posted the receipt and a note of thanks to the anonymous family on Facebook, hoping they may eventually see it. She wishes she could thank them.
"I am overwhelmed and humbled by your thoughtfulness," she wrote. "It was so unexpected, and yet it made such a huge difference to our family," Tipton said.
In an age when parents are often harshly judged by others, these strangers acted out of empathy.
Unlike the angry internet mobs quick to attack a child's mistakes, or to judge a parent for a family's tragedy, the interaction with those who have been in similar situations comes from a place of understanding.
Tipton, who gets teary-eyed talking about the diner's note, has been overwhelmed by people's reaction to her post.
"Just seeing how much it's uplifted other people ... it makes you feel good," she said. "Ultimately, I really, really hope that the family who did this for us sees this."
As the story spread of what happened in the restaurant, it prompted a heated debate among commenters about when a parent should take a child out of a restaurant. Parents of children on the spectrum tried to explain how some children respond differently to stimuli when upset. Tipton was clearly trying to calm her son.
Others made an argument that the other diners' experience should not have been negatively impacted, even if for a few minutes, by the outburst.
But the vast majority who responded to Tipton personally noted how much kinder the world would be if more people handled life the way the other family did.
Her father commented on Tipton's post: "The family that bought our dinner must have been angels from God. Regular people could not have looked at us with such compassion."
In fact, regular people can, and more of us should.