Any time a child has a tantrum in public I am reminded of this: An Open Letter to Anyone Who Has Experienced My Son's Meltdowns (McSweenys.net). It rings true. Anyone who has lived with a child who has autism knows what meltdowns can be like and knows that you're lucky if you know what causes them, let alone how to keep them from happening in the middle of the store.
Now, I'm not one to outright go after a parent in public for their child's behavior issues but I admit at times I have glared at the parent/child in question and wondered why the child wasn't kept under control. What helps is that I remember how I would want to be judged, and how I -was- judged when I'd go into a store with an autistic child and her parent in tow. We went out because it was good for building coping skills, social skills, and awareness of the world. A child who never leaves home never learns to look before crossing the street. But because she didn't -look- like there was something wrong with her, her behaviors must have seemed pretty odd to all the "normal" shoppers in the store.
Remember: What we see, the person's behavior at any point in time, is just the tip of the iceberg. There's a giant submerged part full of history, education, medical diagnoses and situational cues that are all too easy to overlook. We assess the person separate from his environment: "He jumped in the pool with his clothes on! What a weirdo!" Yet if we are judged we're quick to point to situational reasons for our behavior: "It was hot, so I jumped in the pool with my clothes on!"
Assignment for the week: Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or ignores her screaming toddler at the grocery checkout, or doesn't respond to your polite "hello" when passing on the sidewalk... imagine what reasons YOU would have for doing those things, and what reasons they might have (He's late for his friend's wedding, she just told the kid 'no candy' for the fourth time, he's worrying about keeping his job). If you take the time to think about the WHY of behavior, you'll be less stressed, less angry/confused by someone else's behavior, and less prone to giving stupid advice to strangers. I think we could all use less stupid advice, don't you?