The Inhospitable World

For many parents on holiday, this picture would be an average photo they would take of their child playing on the beach.

For me, it is loaded with so much emotion, that you simply wouldn’t see.

Having a child with autism can be more challenging when trying to do typical family outings – for many of us it is a miracle in itself to enable this experience for our children or young people.

Our children may face extreme sensory difficulties; to play on the sand, to feel too warm, to endure direct sunlight or to be overwhelmed by crowds or noise – these are all challenges enough they have to overcome.

So, when I look at this picture, I have to remember how avoidant she was about going to the beach and how she managed her anxieties enough to cope with the demands ahead.

She was so proud of the sand castle she had made and the shiny shell she used to decorate it.

Despite the lengths it took to get her there, she really enjoyed playing, and the freedom the beach has to offer.

However, if you look closely, the inner turmoil is still etched upon her face and her hand is nervously fiddling with the sand. Her body language is often written with anxiety, it’s subtle, but I can always see it.

That anxiety that is already full to the brim and could overflow at any single moment.

As a family (myself as the parent, her siblings and her grandparents) all work together like a tag team so that we can assist her needs and try to help her feel that bit calmer.

What we can’t prepare for is the inhospitable world we live in.

A small girl wondered over and took the shell away from her sandcastle. The beast unleashed instantaneously. I can still hear the words as they echoed over the beach; “Nooooo!!!! That was my shell!” She was screaming so loud as she snatched the shell back from the alarmed child.

I tried my best to calm her down but she was already in meltdown. As I placed the shell back onto the castle, it was already cracked and the sand had a wedge at the top.

Once my daughter saw the imperfection she got even angrier, screaming and crying, and finally she sabotaged the castle herself with the spade then jumped up and down on it in distress.

The girl had returned to the group she was with and they all started pointing and laughing at my daughter in her moment of overload.

My child stuck out her tongue as the tears were flowing sadly down her cheeks.

So the adults and the children in the group stuck their tongues out back. This was like dangling a red rag to a bull.

They watched on as my daughter’s overload heightened even further. They laughed, screamed, taunted and jeered at her – they copied her and enjoyed every moment that she reacted in distress.

A part of me felt like I was broken right then in that moment.

I can do my very best to parent her, to love and prepare her, to guide her with strategies, but what I can’t do is protect her from an unforgiving, inhospitable world.

I tried every strategy possible but I couldn’t manoeuvre my child around the environment or the triggers that were being thrown at her.

So, I whispered in her ear. I asked her, “do you know what will make them stop?”

She listened and nodded, waiting for an answer. She often loses her words when her anxieties are heightened.

So I asked her to ignore them and if we laughed it would annoy them more and make them stop.

Then she kept on doing it.

We rebuilt her castle, put the shell back on and a sense of equilibrium had returned.

I told her I’d write about them on my blog and tell the world how silly they were and she beamed the biggest smile.

She excitedly talked about them being bullies and how if we wrote about it then the police would get them.

I ushered her forwards, trying to block her view, so that she wouldn’t retaliate as they were trying to entice her back into their game for entertainment.

She washed off under the shower – this is time consuming as she has to get off every peck of sand that touches her body.

Knowing their entertainment was going, they followed us to the shower and carried on their circus, asking us what our problem was and continuing their taunts.

One of the men even asked my dad to have it out “man to man” in broken English. My father, ever the diplomat, asked them to go their way and we would go ours. I don’t know how he acted so calm at this point, inside I was like a Rottweiler, ready to rip them to pieces.

I guess that’s the mama protective bear coming out – I certainly could feel my teeth snarling.

We hadn’t taken their offer to extend the dispute and we were walking away with our heads proudly fixed upon our shoulders.

My daughter didn’t see but the adults had told the children to destroy her sandcastle.

The kids jumped up and down on it in glee, imitating my daughter’s earlier actions, in one final act of retribution.

We carried on walking and bought an ice cream instead. I could not have bared to see her crumble as they relished her distress.

I wouldn’t change my daughter for the world; she experiences it just differently to others. But if I could, then I would, change the inhospitable world she lives in.


  1. Stephs Two Girls

    I’m so sad you all had to go through this. I can imagine it all because we deal with similar levels of stress. The way you write this explains so clearly that this is not a spoilt child wanting their own way, but a child who has many struggles. If only other people wouldn’t judge what they didn’t understand 😡

  2. Kris Thielemans-Nordgren

    Seriously, who takes a shell off someone else’s castle? Of course she got angry! Awful people

  3. emmajgourlaybtinternetcom

    It is so sad when adults teach their children how to bully. I recent had to carry my small pda girl through central London. She was overloaded and couldn’t wear her clothes, so I wrapped her in a blanket and headed for a taxi. A group of grown men shouted and pointed at us, one of them following down the street. He caused her so much extra and unnecessary distress. I too wish the world was a more understanding and hospitable place for our girls to grow up in.
    You took the higher ground, held your head high and you can look down on those poor ignorant people that will never have the capacity to understand. X

    1. PDA Parenting

      How awful too, it must just be entertainment in what must feel a mundane world to them. Awful. Thank you for sharing back xx

  4. Ali Sleeman

    That’s such a heartbreaking tale. People can be so cruel, to taunt a child in distress and relish in it is just inhuman. I applaud how your family reacted, heaven knows how you kept so outwardly composed, and can only hope your daughter can return to the beach and enjoy herself again without the demon of reliving this experience. Xx

  5. Autism Kids On Tour

    I’m so sorry you all had to go through this! I cried reading it. How on earth can people be so cruel as to mock a child?! Thank goodness most people are not brought up so badly. Your daughter is right – they were bullies and horrible ones at that! I hope she manages to allow herself to go the beach again to enjoy it without horrible people there. Big hugs to both of you xx

  6. loonytoonz

    Why do people have to be so hateful?
    Awful behaviour from that family/group. No wonder the child with them thought stealing the shell from your daughter’s sandcastle was acceptable in the first place!
    Please let her know your blog post about it was a great idea. It makes me so sad that all the effort she put in, and the success she was having, was blighted by those ignorant, immature, nasty people.
    I hope you have another beach day, playing in the sand soon sweetie pie.

  7. Malin - Sensational Learning with Penguin

    Oh my word, what the devil is wrong with some people!?? I doubt I would have been able to remain calm… And I think your girl has a point about the police, it might sound excessive, but this was harassment and I’m pretty sure that if they’d behaved like that a hundred years ago, the police would have dealt with them. It’s not okay behaviour, at all. So sorry you had to experience this xx

  8. Grace Duncan

    This broke my heart to read. It is so sad that the world can be such a cruel place. Both my boys have PDA and outings can be so difficult at the best of times without the cruel stupidity of ignorant people. It sounds like you handled it so well. x

  9. Jo Doran

    That’s just awful. I have two boys with PDA and they aren’t so calm. If that happened, they would try to physically attack the people, I’d have to hold my child back. Then I’d be the one getting hit and kicked and bitten.

    We’ve had enough problems from the general public now that I’ve started carrying awareness cards from the PDA Society. I keep them on me at all times and when one of my kids has a meltdown, I throw them at a couple of people.

    I’ve only had to use them once so far, but it was amazing! It was in a small soft play area, and a random dad took charge and cleared the area of all kids, then came back and told me, told me where my stuff was that I’d left, and asked if I needed any help.

    The cards explain PDA on one side, and suggest ways someone can help on the other.

    They are on the PDA society website.

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