A Terrible Day
Her day had been a rotten one. Things hadn’t gone well with her son. But then a stranger she had never met before decided to intervene.
Natalie knew very well that most people weren’t tolerant of Rudy and his tantrums sometimes. People would stare with judgment but she was used to it. But she had no idea how far one stranger would go.
Before anything else, Natalie Fernando saw herself as a mom. The day she gave birth to her little boy Rudy, she was the happiest she had ever been.
But not long after she brought her little boy home, she started noticing little quirks. And as he kept growing, her son’s quirks only got more intense.
A Difficult Period
As children grow up, they can’t always be easy. They can have tantrums and just terrible behavior in general. But things got even stranger than that.
What normally makes the tantrums worth it, in the long run, is the cuteness and emotional development you see from your child. But when Rudy’s behavior didn’t yield any other results, Natalie started to worry for her poor son’s wellbeing.
Normally there are easy to identify milestones that came with the behavior. The majority of kids all go through these milestones, but Rudy was different.
Natalie understood that her son was unique, but his tantrums just wouldn’t ease up. And as a mother, it was her responsibility to be tolerant of her child. But it seems that strangers weren’t always so understanding.
Soon it started getting more and more obvious what was going on. Her son’s challenges didn’t come up by sheer coincidence. And sure enough, soon after her son was diagnosed with autism.
Natalie lived in Essex her whole life and was aware of the struggles that came with autism. Her son would now need the utmost care and dedication. But many others weren’t so understanding.
Parents who raise children on the spectrum often struggle at first to understand their children. But that also meant that there was added pressure as a mom. But sadly, sometimes the pressure gets too much and things don’t go as planned.
Natalie wasn’t naive, she was experienced enough to know that there were many stigmas that surrounded autism. But Natalie was a good mother and knew that she could handle it, she would do anything to protect her son and make sure he was fine.
More Than A Mom
Natalie was happy with her son. She raised her son with compassion and understanding. She wouldn’t let his condition overwhelm her. She wanted to show other people what she saw.
Natalie wasn’t just a mom, she was a dedicated blogger, ASD Advocate counselor, and life coach. She wanted to show other families with similar struggles that it wasn’t so bad. But what she never told them was that she struggled herself.
Even though Natalie was great at dealing with her son’s outbursts, it was a different story whenever it was in public. The eyes on her always complicated things.
Most people that walk by didn’t understand that Rudy’s outbursts weren’t his fault. They needed to show a little compassion and understanding, but they had no idea how to. Most people just stared at her with harsh stares.
Natalie decided one day to take her son on an outing. She took Rudy on a walk on the Southend-On-Sea pier. It was a windy day, but something really bother Rudy that day and it would result in something terrible.
He was screaming like he normally did. He did all the normal things, he lay down on the concrete and wouldn’t move. People already started staring at her, she knew things would only get worse if she couldn’t contain the situation quickly.
She Tried Her Best
Natalie tried all of her usual soothing techniques to try and get Rudy up again. Many people were beginning to stare now. Natalie could feel their judgment on her. She was accustomed to strangers not fully understanding the situation.
This never made her feel any less conscious of people’s dirty looks and muttering though. Suddenly, she noticed a man who was jogging by making a beeline toward Rudy and she grew anxious.
He Shocked Her
The man was dressed in an orange and black jogging suit. His face seemed pleasant enough but the way he walked toward them with such purpose worried Natalie.
He stopped near Rudy on the ground and watched him curiously for a moment. When Natalie tried to explain what was going on, the stranger didn’t seem to fully understand. In an instant, the stranger made an unexpected movement and Natalie was shocked by what he did.
Rudy Was Surprised
Natalie half expected the stranger to get angry or say something nasty or cynical. Instead, to her surprise, he got down on the ground and laid down next to Rudy, and spoke to him soothingly.
This seemed to take Rudy by surprise too. As he watched the brightly colored man lying next to him, Natalie saw confusion cross her son’s face. Then, something even more unexpected happened.
Natalie feverishly tried explaining why Rudy was on the ground. The man was unfazed at all and said, “Oh well, if he won’t get up I’ll just lie down next to him so he feels more comfortable.” To Natalie’s utter surprise, the odd actions of the man actually had a positive effect.
Perhaps it was his kind smile or soothing voice. Whatever it was about him, Natalie considered him “a hero” because his kind actions actually calmed Rudy down and even made him smile and laugh.
A New Lesson
Natalie Fernando had spent many years educating others to be more considerate to autistic persons. Now, a stranger had shown her how others sometimes perceived life on the spectrum. The stranger later introduced himself as Ian Shelley.
Ian taught Natalie that even if a person didn’t fully understand the action of an autistic child, that didn’t have to stop them from caring in their own way. After thanking Ian, Natalie knew there was one more thing she had to do.
Sharing Is Caring
Ian had not just shown kindness and compassion but unwittingly saved Natalie from having to spend hours trying to calm her “little Roo” down. Rudy seemed to immediately like Ian almost as if he could sense the childlike sincerity he possessed.
Making sure she got some good pictures of the pair, Natalie later added the story to her awareness blog. The reaction to Ian and his actions was overwhelming. Natalie never expected her post to blow up like it did.
Natalie’s post about what had happened racked up more than 50,000 likes in just a few days. Now, it has been liked more than 97,000 times! It has also accumulated nearly 7,000 comments and 34,000 shares.
All the comments were overwhelmingly positive – everyone’s heart was lifted when they saw that such kindness from strangers does exist. So, just what did Natalie write?
“This man, a total stranger saved me today from either a meltdown lasting up to an hour or more…” Natalie wrote in her now-viral Facebook post.
“…or the alternative which is usually a bit of a beating from my boy who totally loses himself when he has a meltdown and can become very aggressive.”
Thanking The Kind Stranger
“This man, a total stranger, was my hero this morning and after laying with Roo then walked Rudy and I all the way back to our car,” Natalie’s long Facebook post continued.
“I wish there were more of this man around and I am beyond thankful.” But there was still a lot more she wanted to say.
Natalie’s post – which was more than four hundred words long – continued to explain how Rudy’s behavior was drawing “tutting and staring” from the other people on the pier before the “hero” had swooped in.
One woman with a two-year-old toddler in a pram had even gone as far as to frown at her in disapproval. The baby in the pram was trying to sleep, but Rudy’s wailing was making it impossible. Of course, Natalie was absololutely mortified.
He Didn’t Want To Turn Back
“My son loves to walk, but he hates to turn around and walk back, we usually try to walk in a circuit to avoid this but on his favorite walk with the boats we have no choice but to turn back,” Natalie continued.
“This will often lead to a meltdown, one which I can normally handle but on the back of 2 weeks out of school today was too much for him and me.”
Because children with autism struggle to communicate their wants, needs, and feelings in socially acceptable ways, they are prone to having temper tantrums when they are frightened, anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed.
While other children are in control of their tantrums, children on the spectrum are not. In Rudy’s case, not wanting to make the walk back because it signaled the end of his time on the seafront combined with sensory overload triggered a complete meltdown.
Rudy’s meltdown was a reaction to being overwhelmed and he had no control over it. Natalie knew from experience that techniques used to quell other children’s tantrums weren’t going to work on Rudy.
She only had one choice: endure the embarrassment and disapproval from the other people on the pier and pray that Rudy screeched himself into exhaustion.
“This man, my hero this morning saw my son on the floor and like any other person would assume that he was having a tantrum, he asked my little Roo what his name was,” Natalie’s post continued.
“And when I explained he didn’t really understand and that he is autistic and has a host of other challenges… he said, that’s cool I’ll lay down with him… I am so thankful to this chap Ian, I will not forget his kindness.”
Faith In Humanity
“It’s said a lot at the moment, “in a world where you can be anything, be kind” words are easy, these actions are not always so easy. This man is living the words and I couldn’t be more grateful,” Natalie continued, thanking the stranger again.
You can never underestimate the effect an act of kindness will have on the receiver… especially if she’s a struggling mom!
No Truer Words
“If you see a parent struggling, maybe take the time to say, “are you ok” don’t judge the parenting, try not to judge the child, just be kind,” Natalie concluded in her Facebook post.
“We’re all walking our own path and navigating the journey the best we can, sometimes it takes a moment of kindness from a complete stranger to completely change your day.” Just by reading the replies, it’s easy to see that Natalie’s post resonated with a lot of people who had been in the same situation.
Striking A Chord
“So amazingly kind and caring. What a wonderful man,” one user gushed, “So happy to see Roo smiling on the walk back to your car. We need more people like this. I have two autistic grandchildren and sometimes people staring and tutting must really upset my daughter and daughter-in-law.”
Many people left a comment just to congratulate the man on his thoughtfulness, while others offered Natalie some valuable advice.
Advice From Others
“Have you tried making it a game where you give him a checklist of things he has to spot on the way there, then cross the road and give him a new list he has to complete of different things on the way back?” one mom who had experience with meltdowns wrote.
“The new list could be based on the new side of the street? It might make him feel like he isn’t so much turning back and he might like the routine of spotting things.” Another user pointed out just how misunderstood children on the spectrum are.
“When my son did the same in a supermarket an elderly lady told me to give him a smack that would sort him out,” the woman replied.
“There is little understanding of aspergers, autism and ADHD. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just lie down where we are when it all gets too much.”
“We’ve had plenty of comments saying he should be kept at home, people in outdoor spaces like National Trust parks telling us to shut him up,” Natalie told the Manchester Evening News.
“…Shoppers in supermarkets staring and commenting under their breath, you’d be surprised how mean people can be about a little boy, but to them they just assume he’s badly behaved.”
A Little Understanding Goes A Long Way
Natalie’s story holds an important lesson for all of us. Instead of being judgemental or annoyed when you see a child having a public meltdown with his mother obviously mortified and struggling, rather try to lend a helping hand.
Natalie says that she wishes people would approach her to ask why Rudy is screaming rather than judge the situation without the facts.