Meltdowns are no fun for anyone, least of all the person who’s actually having the episode. But things are made infinitely worse when the meltdown occurs in public around unsympathetic strangers.
Such was the case for Annemarie Sykes-Mallinson‘s eldest daughter, Lucy, when a meltdown occurred during an outing at a beach in Scarborough. Annemarie is unsure what triggered the outburst while she and her two daughters were on their outing, but it was disastrous.
“She started throwing sand at me and lashing out. She started to bite me and said she wanted to kill herself,” says Annemarie. “A couple walking past, in their mid-20s maybe, started laughing at us. People all around were staring – and this makes meltdowns worse.”
The meltdown lasted an hour before Annemarie could calm Lucy down enough to get her in the car and take her home. In the meantime, the entire family had to deal with stares and laughter from strangers.
Lucy was only diagnosed with autism about a month ago. For the most part, she acts just like any neurotypical child, and only the people who are closest to her can tell that she has the disorder.
However, she does have occasional outbursts like the one at the beach, especially when unexpected change or uncomfortable social interactions are involved.
“If my daughter is not warned about something in advance, like going to her dad’s or leaving a park or the beach, this can cause meltdowns,” says Annemarie.
Lucy’s family is still learning what they can do to help her and how best to handle a meltdown. Having strangers be understanding, kind, and possibly even helpful would go a long way to making the issue easier to handle. Instead, Annemarie and Lucy have mostly had the opposite experience.
“I feel angry when people stare and judge without knowing the facts first,” says Annemarie. “I also feel sad and helpless because I know my daughter is doing this for a reason and all I would love to do is help.”
Annemarie says her daughter’s public meltdowns are more than just embarrassing and frustrating. They’re also scary, because Lucy has been known to put herself in danger during them. The last thing she needs is judgement from others while she tries to keep her daughter and everyone involved in the situation safe.
Annemarie hopes that as autism awareness becomes more mainstream, more schools and families will begin teaching children about invisible disabilities and how to treat or help someone who isn’t acting the way you might expect them to. “Not all disabilities are visible but they are just as important,” she says.
We hope this story can be a reminder to everyone to be kind. You never know what invisible issue someone else is dealing with.
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?