A Simple Trip to the Store

Four years ago, when my autistic son was four years old, I took him to Target.

He had just been diagnosed with autism.

Life was just starting to get more challenging.

The list of places we could go and things we could do was getting smaller.

Anything outside of our home was nearly impossible.

He struggled to walk, to ride in a cart or stroller, to be calm, to wait, you name it…we felt it.

But I needed something from Target.

I needed to pick up a prescription. I needed milk. And I needed something for dinner.

I thought if I brought him alone, at a quiet time, it would be okay.

In and out. Fast.

I had his Kindle. I had a snack.

We should be fine.

Only he struggled.

He didn’t want to be there.

He rocked the cart. Side-to-side. Everything I put in he threw out.

He screamed.

If people looked at him he would hit himself in the head.

He did this signature move where he stuck his arms out and tried to grab everything he could. He pulled clothes off racks and swept shelves completely bare.

People were staring.

He looked like a four year old having a temper tantrum. But it was so much more than that.

I was going as fast as I could.

Four years ago our Target did not have a self check-out.

So, I waited in line.

It was my nightmare. I was sweating. Everyone was staring. Cooper was at a ten.

When we finally made it to the checkout I thought we were home free.

Except Cooper stood up in the cart screaming indicating that he was done.

But I had to pay. I had to get my things.

So, I sorta held him with one arm, in the cart while I maneuvered my cash card through the machine.

That’s when it happened.

He slapped me. Right across the face.

It wasn’t necessarily hard but it connected just perfectly. The noise was loud.

I was stunned. The cashier was a women in her 60’s. She was shocked as well.

Everyone around us turned to stare.

My cheek burned and my eyes watered.

He had never hit me before. Especially not in the face. And not out in public with an audience.

The cashier immediately scolded Cooper verbally. Something about how we don’t hit.

Only he didn’t care. Or acknowledge her.

I mumbled that he was autistic. That he didn’t speak.

She just stared at me and said, a little too loudly, ‘that’s no excuse to hit your mom.’

I didn’t know what to say. This was my hardest parenting moment to date and I had an audience and a critic.

The stares that I felt burning into me were terrible. Were they judging me? Or worse yet, my son?

I took my bags and ran with my four year old under my arm like a sack of potatoes.

When I got to the car I started sobbing. Like ugly, humiliated, hurt, sobbing.

Cooper was oblivious.

That was the last time he went to Target for almost four years.

I had PTSD. I was scared. I couldn’t do that again.

When we did start going a few months ago, I made sure to take the self check out every single time. I felt more in control that way. Like I could run away if needed.

Each visit has been getting progressively better. But I want to be clear, I am always waiting for it to go bad.

Last night, after Cooper’s baseball game, we went to the grocery store.

His choice. He likes to get a treat.

Cooper walked through the parking lot, through the store, all the way to the bakery.

He didn’t run. He didn’t scream. He didn’t drop to the ground. He didn’t clear off any shelves.

And he didn’t hit himself in the head once.

He picked out a pack of cookies. And a doughnut.

He walked through the rest of the store to get to the check-out.

I saw Jamie approach the cashier and I said….oh, no, we go through self check-out.

And he said no…he can do this.

He was absolutely right.

Cooper didn’t run. Or meltdown. Or scream. Or hit.

He waited. He smiled. And I stood back, holding my 10 month old son, observing it all.

I was so proud of him.

To the parents that have kids that can’t go to stores. That was us. And in many ways still is.

Keep trying. Keep working through it. Have patience, hope and faith.

To learn more about our journey with medication click HERE.

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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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