An Open Letter: To The Man Who Told My Autistic Son To Stop Playing With His iPad.

Dear Barman,
We'd had a lovely day. We'd been out and about in the Cotswolds. Me, my two youngest children plus my eldest and his partner. We'd fed ducks by hand, walked along the river, visited an olde world sweetshop and cute cafe and generally enjoyed family fun in the spring sunshine.

feeding the ducks at Bourton-on-the-water, Cotswolds

My 10-year-old autistic youngest son had retreated to his wheelchair a few times during the day when sensory overload kicked in but on the whole had one of those wonderful days where he just had fun like any other little boy.

We were going to eat lunch in a pub in Chipping Norton where staff and regulars alike were friendly and welcoming but decided it might be better to go somewhere quieter and not so busy.

We headed for your pub in a nearby village which we'd heard good things about. It had fairly recently been renovated and a quick check of the website looked promising with an enticing menu.

Pulling into the car park we spotted a small play area with new equipment for children so felt confident children would be welcomed, especially on a Saturday lunchtime when we planned to order food.

The children went to explore the outdoor play area but when they returned and we were all seated and waiting for the food we had ordered I gave my youngest his beloved iPad.

He was gifted it by the wonderful people at the amazing Family Fund charity for disabled and seriously ill children who understand what a lifeline such technology can be. For my son spending time on the iPad is the main way he unwinds and blocks out exhausting and frightening sensory stimulation and overload, in this case the smell of the log fire and food, the background chatter from strangers and the fact we were in a completely new place he'd never visited before.

We didn't order him lunch as the pub, like most places, didn't have anything on the menu to suit his very specific tastes so I had promised him a snack while we ate to be followed by his own lunch a little later. We normally feed him first but this wasn't possible on this occasion. He's happy enough anyway to play with his iPad or Nintendo DS while we relax and chat and eat. He either wears headphones or turns the sound off so he doesn't disturb anyone else.

The rest of us were in conversation when you, the barman (owner?) walked over with our food. You placed the plates on the table then unexpectedly tapped the table next to my son to get his attention and told him in not a terribly friendly tone to "get off that." Meaning his iPad of course. It didn't seem like light hearted banter and having said it, you walked away.

Luckily when mid-game or YouTube video my son is largely oblivious to the outside world so didn't really hear what had been said to him but my jaw dropped. I felt quite shocked and upset. I was quite literally speechless. Rare in me, believe me!

Of course I could have explained to you nicely that my son uses his tech as therapy as well as entertainment but even if he wasn't autistic, what business was it of yours what parenting decisions I had made about table entertainment for my child?

My daughter wasn't playing with anything, she was joining in our conversation. However she often sketches while waiting for food - might that have been more acceptable because it doesn't involve electronics?

The final straw came when another family came in and after securing a child in a highchair, handed him a mobile phone which this tiny tot then fixated on as it played cartoons with music and narrative so loud we could hear it from our table. You obviously knew them and made no comment at all about this child's entertainment.

So was it my son's age (10) or the fact we weren't locals which prompted you to comment on the iPad?

Whatever, it spoiled my meal and my day really. Apart from being cross with myself for not saying something to you, it made me wonder how many other times we are judged as parents of SEND or  indeed any children as we go about our daily lives.

So barman, or any another person who judges what they think look like lazy or bad parenting choices,  stop and wonder what has led to that choice. Live and let live especially if it isn't disturbing you or other people.

Next time instead of telling children to get off their tech, why not engage and maybe ask what they are playing or watching or make a pleasant friendly comment. If you are going to put in play frames to appear welcoming to children, try and actually BE welcoming to children instead of critical and mean.



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