'Demoralising and humiliating': Public judgement a daily reality for mother of child with autism

child with autism
Toni Brown says society needs to embrace that not everyone will fit into the cookie-cutter mould of the normal. Photo credit: Getty

Is it too hot, too cold? Is it too noisy? Is it too bright? Is there a faint humming sound? Sensory overload can be deafening to a child on the spectrum, similar to nails on a chalkboard. 

Simple everyday tasks like putting on your child's shoes are some things parents take for granted. 

Because for parents of children with autism, basic tasks can become a huge ordeal and day-to-day routines turn into a struggle. 

For Toni Brown, the mother of a child with autism, anxiety, Sensory Proccessing Disorder and possible ADHD, this is her reality. 

She was left feeling depressed and disheartened just last week after taking her son to a yoga class for children, assured by the owner and teacher her five-year-old was more than welcome.

Yoga was recommended to help her son with his anxiety or teach him to be aware of his feelings and calm himself down.

But as class began, the mother-of-two could see her son was finding the session overwhelming. She was told by the teacher to ignore the cues that her son was on the verge of a meltdown but it all became too much.

As her son lost control, Brown was asked to leave and take him out. She was declined of any help and tried desperately to get her distressed son down the studio stairs as fast as she could.

Eventually, she sat down with her son to "hug it out", now both in tears.

Brown tried to walk her son out onto the street as the owner insisted the area was a "calm place".

After spending more than half an hour outside, her son began to calm, slowly understanding what had happened.

His inability to hold composure had captured the attention of other parents, shop keepers, and drivers passing by. Judgemental looks burned through the mother and son as they stood on the footpath. 

"My beautiful boy who has a heart so full and caring, he can't handle all the feelings that come with it - his heart and mine broke just a little," Brown told Newsub. 

"It is demoralising and humiliating when you feel you have done your best to try new things and then get asked to leave when it gets too hard for someone who said they could help."

She is opening up about the experience to help people see the world through her eyes. 

This is her life and with more than 80,000 New Zealanders diagnosed with autism, she is not alone. 

Brown says society needs to embrace that not everyone will fit into the cookie-cutter mould of the normal. 

It was only a year ago when her son was diagnosed with autism.

"You're not just thinking for yourself and your child - but for every single other person in the room or who I might interact with," she said. 

"My son is the same - he has to think how he is expected to act, who he has to talk to... the list goes on. If it is exhausting for me, an adult - what is it like for a five-year-old?" 

But the judgement she feels from others is the true hurdle to get over, with side-ways glances a realities.  

"You have to constantly choose each day to not care what others think," explains Brown. 

Some people struggle with judgements for just themselves.

"But having to explain to your own child why people are looking at you a different way, or why you are asked to leave a place - without making them feel like there is something wrong with them - is heartbreaking."

But Brown doesn't just want to lead him through life, she wants him to walk his own path and give him the tools to recognise when he's facing more than he can handle.

She has been writing in her blog to help others to not feel so alone and recommends others learn more through platforms via Autism New Zealand, Children's Autism or through blogs like ASD Mama or US-based Fathering Autism. 

On yoga studio floor she came to realise there is still much room for education when it comes to understanding how tough it can be when the teacher asked: "What are you going to do with him when he's older? You can barely control him now?" 

"I'm going to be there for him and my family always," Brown says. 

"I know it makes his life easier when I am here to walk him through. But I don't just want to walk him through it - I want him to learn to walk his own path. learn his own tools for coping."