The weeks leading up to Christmas can be a stressful time for any family, but for parents of children with autism it can be doubly so.
For Flora Hill mother Samantha Neaves, whose son Alex was diagnosed with the condition this time last year, a recent experience in a supermarket car park has prompted a call for residents to be a little more patient with each other.
Ms Neaves took to Facebook to remind others every apparently badly-behaved child has their own unique story and urged people to reserve their judgement.
For five-year-old Alex, his first public “meltdown” started with a disruption to his morning routine and the loss of a favourite toy, made worse by a teenager’s insensitive comments.
“A teenage boy in passing said ‘What sort of boy has a girl’s toy he must be a girl and a wuss’,” she said.
“He’s very into Pokemon and the My Little Pony looks like the Pokemon cards ... it made him very upset.”
Ms Neaves said the last straw was a further disruption to the day’s plans after a trip to an indoor park was called off when the facility was closed for maintenance.
“He’s very big on his routine, if he doesn’t have that he’s pretty much lost and very overstimulated and overreacting throughout the day,” she said.
“He didn't understand why we couldn’t go in.
“[The day] was just a full-blown bad event, things that were out of my control and he just reached his limit.”
Ms Neaves said the reaction from other shoppers, which included “disgusted looks” and comments about how “naughty” Alex was, sparked her call for more patience and understanding, not just for children with autism but for all families, especially during the high-stress holiday season.
“You don’t even know what they’re actually going through, especially a child, coming up to Chistmas there’s going to be lots of children having tantrums,” she said.
“Every child gets sensory overload, it’s a lot for a child to process that sort of thing, going out into town, the people, the noise. Nowadays you can’t have a child out in public be a child or you’re judged for it. No one’s going to have time for it but people need to understand they’re children, they’re learning and they’re all learning in different ways. I’ve seen other people who have a child who has a meltdown or even just a tantrum really and you always get so many looks and I just thought the only way to stop that is to spread awareness.”