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Mum of child with autism pens open letter to judgmental strangers

On Feb. 29, Sammi Ovington was shopping with her daughter Skye, but it was no ordinary shopping trip. She encountered several people who appeared to disapprove of both her and Skye’s behaviour, including a woman in Paperchase who called her “irresponsible”.

More: Early warning signs of autism every parent should know

Later that day, the mother posted a photo of Skye on Facebook, with an open letter to those strangers who were so quick to judge in the caption.

She addressed her letter to “passers by” and began by revealing that her 3-year-old daughter Skye has autism spectrum disorder, pica (a disorder believed to affect up to 26 per cent of people with learning disabilities, characterised by a desire to eat nonedible items such as stones, coins or clothes) and hypermobility syndrome.

To the customer in Paperchase, Ovington wrote, “Pica is a disorder where she feels the uncontrollable need to eat non edible things. Skye’s thing is paper. I’m sorry she ate the barcode before we paid but she isn’t naughty and I am not irresponsible.

“To the member of staff in Wilko, no I wouldn’t rather take my child who is in the middle of a meltdown outside and come back in a minute”, Ovington continued. “I think that’s what you would rather me do and I am disgusted with your attitude.

“To the people just staring at me, whispering to each other and the blatant judging of my parenting, I hope your children don’t have bad days like this.

“And to the old lady in Sainsbury’s who told me Skye was too old to be in a buggy and she should be walking, thank you for your input. Skye has hypermobility syndrome.

“Walking long distances for her is painful. So she goes in a buggy when she is too tired to save her little legs from hurting”.

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Ovington finished the letter by saying she had never felt judged by so many people over the course of one day.

“The noise of builders, cars, the beeping to cross the road and music in the shop was all too much for Skye”, she wrote. “Skye dealt with it the only way she knows how. To cover her ears, shake and cry. She was scared. She was upset. And she was panicking. She was NOT being naughty”.

Ovington’s post has been shared more than 4,000 times, and it has struck a chord with many other parents of children with autism.

“I’ve had a similar situation with my daughter in the middle of a busy shopping centre”, one mother wrote. “All the six girls could do was sit and stare laugh and talk to each other [while] staring at a mum of a seven-year-old daughter with autism”.

“I had all this with my daughter when she was small, and more. She’s 30 now”, another parent wrote. “I’d love to say it gets better, but it doesn’t. However our special girls have special mummies and we can handle it. Here’s to you and your daughter, bless you both”.

Despite the stressful day she had, Ovington revealed that she won’t stop taking her “little beauty” shopping and ended her post with a warning that she “will not apologise if she is an inconvenience” to other shoppers.

In a later update to her post, Ovington said Wilkinson’s had been in touch and dealt with the issues she raised “quickly and professionally”.

We all can learn an important lesson from Ovington’s post — and it applies to adults as well as to kids. Instead of being so quick to judge on what we see in a few seconds or minutes, let’s consider how much we don’t know about that person and treat them with a little more compassion.

More: Here’s how to support friends with a child with autism

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