Controversial title? Good, that’s what I was going for, in order to get as many eyes on this post as possible.

At the weekend, hubby and I visited a lovely sensory centre, and we had a great few hours as a family; there was just one thing which made the experience a little…difficult.

In the basement of the centre there was a fabulous space where a children’s book had been brought to life. It was brilliant, with all the surreal whimsy you’d hope for, and Pixie loved it. The idea was to sit and listen to the book being read before exploring the set. As you can imagine, a (barely) two year old had other ideas and refused to stay on her bottom.

Hubby was a little anxious of upsetting the other (older) children and their parents, but I didn’t mind Pixie roaming while she remained quiet and wasn’t causing a disturbance. She was the youngest by some way and expecting her to sit still in that environment would be asking an awful lot.

However… A few minutes after the recital began, a girl (who I’d place around five years old) arrived with her mother. She entered like something akin to the Tasmanian Devil and immediately ran through the children sitting listening to the story, over to where Pixie and all the fun was. In her haste she almost fell over a boy on the floor, and used his head to steady herself. The girl’s mother sat impassively to one side.

The girl proceeded to pick up a wooden mallet and hammer a platform set up for croquet. She continued to swing the mallet towards the ceiling, appearing to seek ways to actively be destructive (though she didn’t actually hit anything). I began to glare at the mother.

How much do you know about autism? This one thing changes everything.

It was when the girl approached Pixie and snatched the toy she was playing that I started to get really cross. At last the mother rose and came over to intervene. She made a point of telling me that her daughter has a lot of problems and is autistic.

Shortly afterwards, the girl came back to Pixie for a second time – this time reducing her to tears. At last the mother apologised, while hastily returning the toys her daughter had taken again. However, by this point my mind was made up and my attitude was set.

Later, the girl attempted to climb over the top of railings two metres above the floor while her mother sat and watched. It was at the moment it looked as though the girl may succeed and throw herself to the ground that her mum finally jumped up to bring her daughter back down to safety.

When we left the centre, I discussed with hubby all that had taken place. I wanted to write an open letter to the mother whose autistic child couldn’t behave herself; something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry your child is autistic but while it explains her behaviour it does not explain yours’ – but more diplomatic, of course.

Hubby didn’t agree and was apprehensive about my idea, but I was idealistic and adamant that children must be parented – irrespective of their issues. If an adult cannot behave properly in society, then there are protocols in place to deal with that – why should there be special allowances for children with irresponsible parents? Yes, it’s sad, of course it is; but that child deserves to be safe and we all deserve to go about our business without worrying about other poorly behaved kids – even if that behaviour is not borne of spite.

I knew I’d have to craft this post exceedingly carefully to avoid alienating people, but – despite my husband’s misgivings – it’s something I felt strongly about. So when my cousin visited I chatted to her about it; and I was surprised to learn she has firsthand experience of autism with a friend’s child. She was the perfect person to talk to, and here’s why:

I was wrong.

When I write my Thankful Thursday posts, every single one of them contains at least one example of my daughter’s love, and tenderness, and warmth. It’s entirely possible that poor woman receives little to none of that from her daughter.

To the Mother Whose AUtistic Child Couldn't Behave

When Pixie is causing my nerves to fray and I’m on the verge of tearing my hair out with impatience or irritability, she has only to put her arms around my neck for the stress to dissolve.

When I wonder whether I’m a good enough parent, I’ve only to watch the kindness and generosity of spirit my daughter displays to know I’m doing okay.

When I’m on my knees through sleep-deprivation, Pixie’s demands for cuddles and kisses are what keep me going.

In all things, always, my daughter’s affection is balm for my soul.

From hereon in, if it doesn’t sound too patronising, I extend my deepest sympathies and compassion to the often thankless task parents of severely autistic children have. Worst of all is that they have not only to deal with their incessant, pitiless exhaustion (autistic children often sleep very poorly, for just an hour or two at a time) – they have also to deal with ignorance from those around them who should know better but don’t.

The only comfort I take from my failing, is that from a sense of common decency and being perpetually British, I told the woman I understood. I only hope she believed me – because honestly, I wasn’t as sincere as I should have been. Shame on me…

So, to the mother whose autistic child couldn’t behave herself: I’m sorry. Given your circumstances I don’t know if I’d be doing as good a job as you are.

In an ideal world, your daughter wouldn’t have made mine cry; in an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to deal – every day – with the ignorance of (over?) protective mothers like me.

In an ideal world…


Motherhood, Parenting

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.


  1. Sharon stanley Reply

    It’s hard work being mum to one kid on the spectrum, three is a madhouse then there’s me lol. It is hard to understand not having an autistic child but I still dicipline my girls. The namby pamby approach taught by specialist does nothing but reinforce their behaviour. Thankfully using the tools I have learned and applying sensory measures my two youngest are well liked at school by children and parents despite theif difficulties. Thankfully they’re on a lower end of the spectrum but still if I take them to public places and they misbehave to a point it’s affecting others I take them home. It’s my job as a mom to make sure despite difficulties my children can one day be a gift to society rather than a menace. Although I agree dicipline has to be done differently to a child with autism it should definitely be done and not ignored sign excuses. Explaining a child’s behaviour is fine but the first step I feel this lady should have taken was to calm her child and then come over an appologise but everyone does things differently. My way works with my children. They’re still loud and can be disruptive but I truly believe every action has a reaction and if my girls misbehave in public they miss out on the activity. Autistic children are intelligent and consistency is a must. If you are consistently allowing them to behave like that with no reaction as a parent they will consistently misbehave because that’s their ‘normal’. I hope your little one wasn’t too upset by what happened. Xx

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      It’s refreshing to hear from somebody in your position with your views. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. You’ve given me a lot to consider actually. I like to think I will now be more compassionate, but perhaps I want expecting too much after all. I’d not considered how the parenting methods employed for these young children will contribute to the adults every become – and of course that is also very relevant and very important. Xx

  2. Sharon stanley Reply

    I was horrified when told that I should only reward and not dicipline. I think the advice given makes it harder to control a child on the spectrum. While it is difficult boundaries and dicipline still has its place I think. Just taking my kids away from a situation where they are causing others distress is something I do often. I find when they’re behaving out of term they’re usually over stimulated so taking them away solves the problem. Ok the tantrum continues and they miss out but with perseverance they will learn that their reaction good or bad causes a reaction from me and it won’t always be a positive one.

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