A mum’s heartfelt Facebook post thanking a total stranger for “saving her” by helping her autistic son avoid a meltdown, has gone viral as it has resonated with other parents.
Natalie Fernando and her son Rudy, five, were walking to see the boats in Southend earlier this week when Fernando realised Rudy might be on the precipice of a meltdown.
“My son loves to walk, but he hates to turn around and walk back, we usually try to walk in a circuit to avoid this but on his favourite walk with the boats we have no choice but to turn back, this will often lead to a meltdown, one which I can normally handle but on the back of two weeks out of school today [it] was too much for him and me,” Fernando, who is based in Hockley, wrote in a Facebook post that has now been liked over 51,000 times.
In the post, which was shared on her Better to be Different Facebook page, Fernando said that when a stranger saw her son on the floor, he asked Rudy what his name was, before Fernando explained that he is autistic and was finding this part of the walk difficult.
“He said, ‘That’s cool I’ll lay down with him,” Fernando added. “He then proceeded to chat with us whilst walking back to the car. I am so thankful to this chap Ian, I will not forget his kindness.
“It’s said a lot at the moment, ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind’. Words are easy, these actions are not always so easy. This man is living the words and I couldn’t be more grateful.
“If you see a parent struggling, maybe take the time to say, ‘are you ok?’. Don’t judge the parenting, try not to judge the child, just be kind.
Watch: Former TOWIE star Lauren Pope discusses autism
"We’re all walking our own path and navigating the journey the best we can, sometimes it takes a moment of kindness from a complete stranger to completely change your day.”
Fernando told Yahoo UK that when she saw Ian drop to the floor next to Rudy, she was “speechless”.
“I didn’t expect it, it’s something I have often done with Rudy so it was almost like he instinctively knew what to do," she said.
"I was so thankful as he completely took Roo by surprise and distracted him from what was about to occur, at this point I said, 'Do you mind if I take a photo?'”
Since sharing the story on Monday 12 April, Fernando's Facebook post has received over 4,000 comments from well wishers and people praising Ian for helping out.
Fernando said she is “stunned and utterly overwhelmed” by the reaction to the post.
“I’m also surprised by how many people have reached out and said they don’t know how to act around special needs or if they see a parent in distress, so I'm truly happy that this is raising the awareness we need for our little ones to grow, develop and thrive in a more accepting, more inclusive, non-judgmental world,” she explained.
“I think as special needs parents, it's easy to say people are judgmental and all too often they can be, but sometimes I wonder how much is others just not knowing. No awareness, therefore no understanding.
"I think this resonated with people because it gave them an insight as to what they can do to help.
"Acts of kindness like this make us feel good and see good in the world, at a time where things have been really challenging.”
Rudy was diagnosed with autism, global development delay, sensory processing disorder, learning difficulties, speech regression and challenging behaviour when he was two years and 10 months old.
“He has lots of complex needs so I would be lying if I said raising Rudy wasn’t a challenge," adds Fernando.
"When he has a meltdown he can be so aggressive, hitting, kicking, head butting, but again it has to be understood that at this moment this isn’t him, this is his only way of communicating that he is overwhelmed.
"He desperately needs help regulating so he can cope, through his fabulous SEN [Special Education Needs] school and us, we are helping him learn to self regulate so the meltdowns become less.
“Rudy is carefree, fun, cheeky, mischievous, he is the most loving little dude. Kisses and cuddles regularly. He loves to smell everything, from my hair a thousand times a day, to the food he puts in his mouth.
"He found absolute wonder in the world, hugging trees, gasping in awe at the blue sky and total wonder when a train or flock of birds goes past.”
Fernando started her Better to be Different blog after Rudy was diagnosed, as she was “so overwhelmed” she “couldn’t piece together” how she felt.
“I also have an Instagram page and I found it quite cathartic, expressing my feelings and having others relate so I didn’t feel alone,” Fernando said.
“I then realised how many other people out there felt like me.
"Once your child is diagnosed as autistic you get very little help and support. It’s scary because at the same time you’re trying to come to terms with your own feelings about your life going forward and how it may be whilst understanding your child's diagnosis and learning a whole new way of parenting.
"It's totally overwhelming and I want other people who felt like me to know they’re not alone.”
Fernando also wants to raise awareness among those who do not have SEN in their lives.
“I really want them to understand the world we live in and our children live in so they can think first, judge later, and help if they want to, without feeling like they may be poking their nose in or doing the wrong thing,” Fernando added.
“Rudy has made me a better person without a doubt, I am more patient, tolerant, thoughtful and far less judgmental and I only have him to thank for that.”
Watch: 72-year-old ‘vegetable king’ becomes viral lockdown gardening hero