Don’t Stare – Ask! | Organization for Autism Research

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This post originally appeared on It’s A Tink Thing and is re-posted with permission. 

A little girl, somewhere around Tink’s age, came up to us in the soft play centre. She asked why Tink has a dummy. I told her, “because she likes it. It makes her feel safe when she’s feeling a bit worried.” The little girl thought for a few seconds, and said, “oh, she likes it” and that was that.

That’s what I like about children; they’re so direct. They see something that intrigues them, they ask about it. Curiosity is, after all, how we learn about the world. However, we seem to lose the ability to continue learning in this way as we become adults and, supposedly, more ‘worldly wise’.

You see, adults don’t tend to ask those direct questions. They stare. They mutter to their friends in a not-quite-inconspicuous-enough way. Sometimes, they even just come right out with a comment, unfiltered. But, unlike children, who are asking with genuine curiosity, adults tend to remark with pure judgement.

Once we reach adulthood, we seem to think we know it all. If something or someone looks a little unusual, a little off, different to our interpretation of ‘normal’, we instantly judge it to be wrong, and some of us feel the need to express this outwardly. And nothing gets us pulling up our judgey-pants as firmly as someone else’s parenting ability. It’s often done in an underhand, almost jokey way, often directed at the child rather than the parent. I’ve heard variations of, “you’re a big girl now, you don’t need that dummy in! Dummies are for babies!” (Yeah, she won’t understand that, and I know the comment is aimed at me really, for ‘letting’ her have it.) “Oh, are you being a naughty girl for Mommy? Why are you making all that noise?” (No, Tink’s rarely ‘naughty’, actually, and crying isn’t really being naughty anyway, is it?)

Just this week, Tink’s Daddy commented on how he hates the way people stare at her because she has a dummy in whilst clearly looking too old for one. I barely notice these days, but I’m out in public with her a lot more than he is. Sadly, he’s right. People do stare. When she screams suddenly in the supermarket, making that awful, ear-piercing sound, people (quite understandably) turn to see what on earth is going on. Then they see it’s a tall, almost five-year-old and many don’t turn away. They stare some more while she continues to scream, or begins to cry and I try to calm and comfort her. She looks to old to be behaving like that, so it’s stare-worthy. And obviously, I am pandering to her tantrum by attempting to comfort her rather than chastising her unsociable behaviour! “What kind of parents are they, that they let their child behave like that?” You can see that this is what’s running through their mind, as they tut and move on. “What is wrong with that child?”

Well, maybe you should ask me? Come over and ask if she’s ok. Then I can explain that she will be, but that she’s finding the shop a little overwhelming and this is how she expresses it as she doesn’t yet have the language to do it in a more socially-acceptable manner, thank you for asking.

Adults won’t ask questions of strangers like children do. It’s not the done thing. And yet, sometimes, I wish they would.

I wish, instead of staring in disgust, or muttering under their breath, that they would, like the little girl in the soft play centre, just ask me whatever it is that’s on their mind. Ask me why she has a dummy – but kindly, genuinely, without scorn. Then I can explain to them that it eases her anxiety and provides her with the oral feedback she craves, as she has sensory processing issues. I can tell them that I don’t like her having it, but that it’s not a battle I have the energy to fight at the moment. Maybe we could chat about autism in general, and they could go away feeling a little more educated and a little less judgemental the next time they see something or someone a little bit different.

About the Author

author-photo-kelly-tinkKelly Kemp is mum to Tink, age 4. She was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder at the age of 3. Their family lives in Birmingham, UK Kelly blogs about autism, special needs and life in an ‘autism family’ at  

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