11 Things I Learned about Autism at Target

My son has been having some pretty big breakthroughs lately.

He’s been trying new foods. An apple, a grilled cheese, a hamburger and even his first French fry.

He’s been more vocal. Calmer. Happier. His anxiety seems to be going down. All huge wins in our autism world.

So, yesterday I asked him if he wanted to go to Target, like I have before. For the last 6 or so years when I ask him if he wants to leave the house the answer is always no.

Well, he immediately grabbed his shoes, his coat, my boots, my purse and my keys.

I took that as a yes.

I was pretty excited. Cooper’s anxiety prevents him from doing almost everything outside of our home.

So, when he wants to try, I am ecstatic.

Off we went.

I’m excited to say that Cooper did AMAZING at Target.

He walked safely in the parking lot. (That’s new!) He waited while I dug out the Caroline’s Cart. Of course it was smashed in the middle of the other carts. For a brief second I thought about lifting his 80 pound body into a normal cart but changed my mind.

So, I pulled out a dozen other carts to get to the one we needed.

And Cooper waited.

Once loaded he calmed down. He sat the whole time. He chatted. He was loud. I talked to him about calm body and calm hands the whole way through.

He waved to everyone. He gasped when he saw things he liked. He laughed happily at the people. Everyone stared at us. Not in a bad way though.

He hustled me for two DVD’s. Which was a win because he wanted three. He also got ‘thank you’ cards with elephants on them and a bag of Cheetos.

He stayed seated while I paid. He didn’t throw anything out of the cart. Or rock it.

He was so happy to be out. And I was happy to have him out in the community. He belongs there.

I have learned so many things about Cooper, autism, myself and other people in the last few years.

Here are 11 from our trip to Target.

I’m scared

I’m scared all the time when we are out in public. I’m scared of Cooper running away from me. I’m scared of him melting down. I’m scared of not being able to control him. I’m scared of him getting hurt. I’m scared of someone saying mean things to us. The fear is always running through my mind.

My son can smell fear

I know this sounds funny. But I’m pretty sure it’s true. My son is pretty in tune to what is going on with me. And vice versa. When I am nervous, he is nervous. As his anxiety rises, so does mine. I’ve learned that he needs me to be calm…for him. I need to relax. There is nothing I can’t handle as his mom. So what if he melts down. Or throws something out of the cart. We will get through it. Together.

I can hold my breath

I can hold my breath for a really long time. A whole Target trip actually. As we were driving to the store yesterday I could feel my anxiety rising. The second I opened his car door he was off to the races. Fast, fast, fast. And as I buckled him back safely into his seat once we were done, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time.

Most people stare

I’ve learned that most people stare. But I’ve also learned that most people are just curious. Cooper and I are loud. I’m rattling on about calm body and calm hands and he is pointing, squealing, laughing and ‘chatting’ in his own way. He is also a big kid sitting in a cart designed for people with disabilities. Let’s just say we are highly visible. It’s okay to stare at us. Mostly, we don’t mind. But please know that it’s okay to smile too.

I won’t shush my son

My beautiful son is really, really loud. He has a lot to say. I want the world to know that this is all new to us. I prayed for this. We worked for this. Countless hours of speech therapy, modeling and practicing. And still…no words. But that’s okay. Because he is trying. I will not shush him. Especially not in Target.

People don’t wave back

My son loves to wave. He loves to smile. He loves to make eye contact. This makes people nervous. I can’t speak to that anymore because I’ve lived in Cooper’s world for so long that to me it is completely normal to wave at strangers. We encourage it actually. Most people get nervous. I’ve learned that most people don’t wave back either. They get this weird deer-in-the-headlights look. As a special needs mom, please wave back. Try it. I bet you’ll enjoy it.

I need to slow down

Cooper was so excited to be at the store yesterday. He loved looking at the DVD’s and picking out a bag of Cheetos. He loved riding in the cart and seeing the people. I realized once we were driving home that I was actually sweaty. If you were to watch me on the Target cam I bet I was practically a blur. I need to slow down. I need to relax. I think we are finally turning the corner with Cooper’s anxiety and that he actually wants to be out in public. I need to let him enjoy it.

I will do anything to help my son be successful

I mean this one. If I have to stop in the middle of an aisle I will. If I have to chase him I will. If I have to bend down and bear hug him on the ground of the parking lot I will. I will do anything to help him be successful. And I will act like a total crazy person to keep him happy, content and safe.

Going to Target is a really big deal for us

I know it sounds so silly. Sometimes I look around at families in stores and I actually get jealous. Their kids are demanding a toy or they are fighting over what to have for dinner. And I’m jealous. I know it sounds silly. This trip to Target is a really big deal for us. Cooper wanted to go. He enjoyed his car ride there. We chatted about the stoplight colors for over a minute. He was so happy to be going. We worked for this. And it’s a really big deal in our world.

You won’t understand us

Unless you live our world, we won’t make sense to you. And I know that now. Every move we make is discussed. Every decision planned. From where I park (near the cart return because Cooper can’t be alone in the car for even a second), to the cart we use, the aisles we go down, to the self check out. We talk about every single turn in the store. I bend down in front of him a lot to talk him through different scenarios. It may appear that we are even in our own world. And in a way, I guess we are. We don’t make sense to most people. I’ve learned that over the years.

My son deserves to be here

The older my son gets the more I realize how much he deserves to be in the community. Now in saying that, we are still battling his anxiety. It’s an uphill battle that I don’t see ending anytime soon. But if he wants to go out in public, you can sure as hell bet he is going to get too. He deserves to be in the community. And the community deserves to know him too.

I know many of you have questions about my son’s anti-anxiety medication. I have made the decision to not discuss it publicly. If you would like to learn more, please consider joining my private subscriber group. https://www.facebook.com/becomesupporter/772295979579532/

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  • James Tate

    March 11, 2019 at 6:17 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much for these stories! It warms my heart and gives me strength to see we aren’t the only ones. My fiancé Jillian […] Read MoreThank you so much for these stories! It warms my heart and gives me strength to see we aren’t the only ones. My fiancé Jillian follows every update on Cooper. You have helped her so much, I can’t thank you enough for this. Go Cooper! Read Less

  • Debbie MCCLARENCE

    March 11, 2019 at 6:21 pm
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing your trip to Target with Cooper. I was so excited to hear about his / and your adventure. You […] Read MoreThank you for sharing your trip to Target with Cooper. I was so excited to hear about his / and your adventure. You are an awesome M O M. And Cooper makes me smile. God Bless you sweet Cooper. Read Less

  • Pauletta

    March 11, 2019 at 6:57 pm
    Reply

    I love Cooper. If I ever ran into you all in a Target, you bet this ole grandma would wave back to Cooper. I […] Read MoreI love Cooper. If I ever ran into you all in a Target, you bet this ole grandma would wave back to Cooper. I just love you and your family. I live in Florida. Read Less

  • Maureen

    March 11, 2019 at 7:15 pm
    Reply

    So pleased for you both. What a milestone, wishing you all many more.💕

  • Beth Suzanne Dale

    March 11, 2019 at 7:50 pm
    Reply

    I wish I had seen you at Target. A lot of times children smile, wave, and sometimes say Hi to me when I am shopping. […] Read MoreI wish I had seen you at Target. A lot of times children smile, wave, and sometimes say Hi to me when I am shopping. I always acknowledge them. As the grandmother of an autistic child I recognize what a big day this was for you. I'm happy but sad more people did not respond with smiles and waves. Read Less

  • Zoe

    March 11, 2019 at 8:01 pm
    Reply

    I am very happy for you and Cooper! Waving back to Cooper from New York. More power to you Kate!

  • Robin

    March 12, 2019 at 5:30 am
    Reply

    Awe... so glad Cooper wanted to go to Target an$ did so well! I always wave at kids in the stores who wave at me.. […] Read MoreAwe... so glad Cooper wanted to go to Target an$ did so well! I always wave at kids in the stores who wave at me.. autistic kids don’t make me nervous... I gladly talk to them if we are waiting in line, etc.. I used to volunteer in special needs classrooms.. Read Less

  • Lynda

    March 12, 2019 at 9:25 am
    Reply

    I love Cooper and you. Every success I feel is one for all of us. Be assured I would wave back.

  • donna angelini

    March 12, 2019 at 7:34 pm
    Reply

    I love to hear of Coopers success, I work for a store in florida, called Publix, we have a few young men working there […] Read MoreI love to hear of Coopers success, I work for a store in florida, called Publix, we have a few young men working there with autism, they flap their hands , they are loud, and they have huge hearts and they love people, We all know them we all love them, even the firefights that shop at our store, know them and chat with them,they get so excited to see the firefighters, the customers that shop there there all the time know them and love them also.... these boys are hard workers and are part of our publix family.... I pray for cooper all the time and I pray he finds a place like publix when he is older...... Read Less

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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