Kellie Barker and her son, Oscar, are no strangers to rude comments from people they meet in public places. Oscar was just 18 months old when he was diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, and global developmental delay. He looks like any other ordinary child, but he often behaves in ways others consider weird or annoying, such as screaming, stimming, and randomly taking his shoes and socks off. This causes strangers to give him and his mom dirty looks and even make upsetting comments about the behavior.
“When we go out, it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with him – he looks like a normal run-of-the-mill kid,” says Kellie. “Oscar does have unpredictable behaviour though. He gets lots of looks and gets called naughty by adults.”
The 41-year-old mother from Herne Bay, Kent, says strangers have even said things like, “For god’s sake, shut up,” and “If he were mine, he’d be getting a smack.”
Other times, people simply avoid Oscar and don’t talk to Kellie unless it’s to ask what’s wrong with her son. Even in meetings that are about Oscar, some adults refuse to refer to him by his name.
Sadly, Oscar knows exactly what’s happening around him, and the rude looks and comments make him feel worse about his conditions. They can even trigger a meltdown, which is traumatizing for Oscar, causes Kellie distress, and invites even more strangers to point, stare, and state their uninformed opinions.
Like any other mother would, Kellie found her protective mama-bear personality coming out. She wanted to find a way to explain the situation quickly and effectively to other people so that they’d stop saying terrible things to her, or worse, to her son. She also hoped to get people to give Oscar a little extra space, because physical touch can make him anxious and upset.
So she started Born Anxious, a comfortable and planet-friendly clothing brand that focuses on people with autism and those who love and support them. Each t-shirt or tote bag has a design on it meant to promote the acceptance of people with autism and other special needs.
Shirts like Kellie’s “Bee Kind, I Have Autism” tee, for example, let others know that the reason’s for Oscar’s “strange” behaviors is his autism and that it’s not okay to be mean to him just because of the way he’s acting. The shirt does its job, however, without being confrontational or rude. It’s a more subtle way to have a conversation with those who would otherwise not have given Kellie the chance.
“It’s about informing people in a really gentle way that he may need a wide berth when we’re out,” says Kellie. “Someone could go up to him, say ‘Hello, mate,’ and ruffle his hair without realising that could ruin our whole day.”
So far, Born Anxious has had a great reception from the public. “I’ve had a really good reaction to the products,” says Kellie. “A lot of people have said that people have been kinder to them because of this.”
These are the kinds of things the world needs to truly spread awareness to those who refuse to see the realities of autism and other conditions. So many people think they know what autism is but don’t recognize it in real life, choosing instead to judge other parents. This reminder could truly change the way people treat one another!
Thank you, Kellie, for taking the time to make going out in public easier for people with autism and their families. Your message is such an important one!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?