4 years ago

Here’s the rundown of the mom of Autism unseen.

I’m not a high energy person.  If you’re new to Svellerella, it’s good to know it.

You know how it seems lots of moms do their grocery shopping during the week and go playdate hopping a few times a week?  Yeah, not me.

Why not?

Because: Autism.
But mostly: Me, I think. 

What I have here are three boys:

Property of C. Svellinger

Lexington: 4 Years old. Type A personality.  Will talk the ears off a blade of grass, while rolling down a hill waving at the other blades of grass passing by, while eating slices of apples, and tap dancing, if he knew how.

Emmett: 3 Years old. Low Key. Does not verbally communicate his needs, wants, frustrations. Is completely thrown off by routine change and easily overwhelmed by large crowds or prolonged outings. Communicates these things by throwing himself on the ground and/or screaming and kicking, and screaming and screaming. Will run off if/when the impulse hits him. Autistic.

Collin: He’ll be 2 this Autumn. Wants to be 4 years old. Enough said.

Couple these people with my low energy personality and the outlook of making it to the grocery store with them in tow is always pretty bleak.  Yet, I persist. Sometimes.

Remember when I shared this illustration last week?  It’s actually a gift for a friend, which I sealed in an envelope and never sent.  Yesterday, a Craig-has-night-class-and-won’t-be-home-til-very-late day, my goals were as follows:

  • Get envelope to post office.
  • Quick grocery store run.
  • Reward with Costco pizza.Overall: Exhaust the children with the errands.

That’s three stops.
What I’ve learned, which really helps Emmett, is to show him a photo of our destinations.  He looks for that place and seems satisfied once we arrive, with hardly any protesting.

But if it’s a place I’ve not warned him about? It’s just plain hell.
And guess who thought it wouldn’t be a big deal not to warn Emmett about the reallyquick stop to the post office?

I’m trying hard to be more self sufficient and exert the energy to get out with all three boys, but more often than not, I praise God that my mom lives 10 minutes away and works part time. 90% of my grocery shopping or errands are done because my mom is available to help me with the boys.

property of C. Svellinger


But after a while, I start to feel like a pathetic wimp for always needing help.  I really do, even against my own creed of “asking for help is not a sign of weakness,” which I fully stick to!
Why can’t we do these simple things? Why can’t we take a trip to the park whenever we want to, as often as we want? Why do I become so overwhelmed?
I ask, but I know the answer:
Because my anxiety skyrockets when I’m alone with my three boys in a parking lot.  I know all it would take is for Emmett to suddenly jerk out of my hand and tear blindly through the traffic.  I know when we are at the park, all it would take is for me to be distracted for three seconds, soothing a small boo-boo from Collin, and I turn around and Emmett is gone.

This has happened to me a few times before, and I think it’s wiser to err on the side of uptight anxious helicopter mom than turn around and behold the terror of my son giddily running into traffic, his eyes to the sky and hands flapping out from his sides.  But I still feel the judgy eyes. Heck, I feel even the nonexistent judgy eyes, while some evil shoulder angel whispers to me that I’m a weak mother who can’t take control of a situation. I know them, though, because I’ve had the same eyeballs in my head all before Emmett was a dream in our hearts.

So there we are, sitting in the parking lot of the post office, the boys chipper in their carseats, I, mentally preparing to get everyone out of the car.  I know the chipper can turn sour in all of 3 seconds.

I notice 5 other cars pull up.  I wait.  Now there’s 5 people in there.  Emmett has no concept of standing in a line, and no patience to learn.  I wait until three of those people come back out.
I spring out of the car, snatch out a sleeping Collin, surprise Emmett who was coloring a book, and Lexington whistlingly follows along.
A few other cars pull up in my peripheral and I feel the first spike of sweat break out across the back of my neck. MUST GET TO THE DOOR–   Lexington opens the door for us which screeches and creaks loudly, and it sets Emmett off.


Not now, not now! I think. There’s just no convenience of chitchatting with my fellow townies while Emmett is in the picture realizing he doesn’t like where he is.

This is one of those times where I literally consider bellowing out to the room “MY SON IS AUTISTIC PLEASE LET ME THROUGH.”  But I don’t because I feel like a wimp (other parents with special needs kids do this, so suck it up.), and I know what everyone is already thinking: children. bratty, screaming children. 

But I look up at the voice calling my name, and it happens to be an old acquaintance I haven’t seen in years– I mutter to her that Emmett is Autistic and apologize that I needed to get my envelope mailed asap.  But she walked back into the post office with me, as she informed me she works at our town’s Early Intervention program.  She knelt down and talked to Lexington as I held a now groggy Collin and a clingy Emmett who’s whining escalated each second.

I looked at my envelope and ink had completely smeared off.  Great.  Tack on an extra obstacle.
The gentleman at receiving kindly rewrote the address for me.
My friend (who I hardly know) stayed with me and talked with me and to my boys.

As I strapped everyone back in the car, Emmett calmed down and returned to his happy self. I felt renewed in my faith in community.
I am so wound tight with anxiety and the fears of what I know I probably look like to the passerby that it shuts me down.  All it took was the presence of a semi-stranger who knows very well what it is to be a parent.

As Emmett was given photographic evidence of the rest of our destinations, our errands ended with a $10 cheese pizza in the trunk, zero tears from anyone, and running barefoot in a tiny fenced-in backyard I thank Jesus for every. single. day.

Property of C. Svellinger
Costco is the only store which Emmett consistently exclaims “BEEEEEWWWWTIFUL” as we barrel down the aisles.

And Costco provided a consolation prize.

Property of C. Svellinger

So did Kroger.

Property of C. Svellinger





  1. Ditto on everything Gina said. This was beautiful! I don’t have a child with autism, so I know very little about it except what moms like you put out there. Isn’t it all too easy to look at a mom struggling with her kids and think she has no control over them?

    Also, genius on the picture idea. Do you print out pictures or do you show them to him on your phone?

    1. Really, the picture idea came from Emmett’s Early Intervention Specialist. I should have noted that! She told me I could create a binder filled with pictures of tasks, chores, food items, and destinations, so that I could show him what we are doing for the day. But I’m not fancy like that so I just take some screen shots of Costco and flash him the screen while we are in the car and that seems to do the trick for the moment.

  2. This post brought tears to my eyes. You are brilliant to have the photo-destination plan. What a blessed kid Emmet is! Also, don’t beat yourself up. I have no high-needs children and I break out in a sweat sometimes thinking of going to the store with mine in tow. Much love, my online friend.

  3. Good on ya for taking a risk.

    I think that one of the hardest parts of being out with littles is that children are not regarded as an everyday occurrence. They are either overly catered to or completely overlooked. No I don’t need them to have stickers or balloons every time we go to the grocery store, but carts with working belts or stalls with changing tables in both the men’s and women’s restrooms would sure help.

    Keep on keeping on.

  4. My dear sweet Carolyn! Have faith that you are, indeed, a WONDERFUL, STRONG & LOVING MOTHER!! I’ve seen both you & Craig with your boys and they are blessed to have you both as parents!! I know life seems overwhelming at times, but again have faith! You are doing things the right way with Emmett, you must believe this!! When it all seems too much just remember to breathe….take a few breaths say a Hail Mary or two & refocus! You can do this! I believe in you 100%!! Love you bunches!!

  5. You’re a beautiful mom.

    My extended family just got hit with two diagnoses of Sensory Processing Disorder in the same sweet family and I’ve seen firsthand how heroic the mothers of kids with special needs must be on a daily, no, hourly basis.

    p.s. that’s Dave Matthew’s wine label. Holla.


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