I was recently on a three-week cruise with my husband and son (Harry). For the first week of the cruise, I was relaxing and oblivious to the other passengers. Harry (who is non-verbal) was squealing quite a lot and thought it a great joke, particularly at inappropriate times, such as dinner – when in a restaurant with 1000 other passengers.
About a week into the trip, a man in his 60s or 70s (I can never tell age) sitting at the next table, turned around, red faced, and yelled, “there is no excuse for a child behaving like that” (or something to that effect). A lovely man from our table retorted, telling the angry man that he didn’t know the circumstances and he should back off. A few minutes later I approached the angry man, apologised for Harry’s squealing, and explained his special needs background. While he did apologise, he followed it by saying that we “should have made it known beforehand”. Really – we should make some sort of public announcement?? From then on every time Harry uttered even the smallest noise I would look up and notice people staring. All meals after that were eaten as quickly as possible, to minimize the time spent in public.
During the remainder of the cruise many people were told of Harry’s special needs as we apologised repeatedly following every noise he made. Many replied saying they had wondered if he had autism, and could tell there was something “wrong” with him. It was a stark realisation for me, that he is big enough now that people make assumptions and have expectations – he is tall for his age, so gets mistaken for a 5-year old, who acts like a 2-year old… This experience led me to think – which is worse, for people to look at us and think we are bad parents, or for them to look at Harry and think something is wrong with him??