Since today is World Autism Awareness Day, I just want to put this out there (again): My son has autism and we are so very fortunate that he is verbal (sometimes TOO verbal), he looks normal, he's wicked smart and has an amazing artistic side. My son is also verbally abusive, borderline violent with his sister (beyond typical bro-sis interactions) and he can cut your heart with words you never would say to another soul. He is my son, he has autism and I love him. So much that I will snap at people who make assumptions, offer unsolicited advice, judge, etc.
When you see a kid having a "temper tantrum" at the store, screeching at the top of their lungs in the parking lot or flailing on the floor at the checkout, please do not assume to know what is happening. Since our son's diagnosis 7 years ago, I have made a conscious effort to stop and think about that family. It could very well be a tantrum for not getting what they want, could be a kid mad at mom for busting him doing something naughty. It could be a loud noise has scared a hypersensitive child and sent them in sensory overload (Donovan would FUH REAK out at the toilets flushing at McDonalds), it could be a slight change in the plans or an omission on mom's part about one extra stop.
These kids thrive on knowing what's going on when they are out of their element, out of their safety zone. Please don't jump to conclusions about these kids. They are little humans who need extra support.
Also? If you see a mom, dad or caretaker struggling, there is no harm in asking if you can help. If they lash out at you and tell you to mind your own business then you have done what you can. I will never forget when Donovan and I were at the mall a few years ago, just he and I. It was impossible to get him to the car and he didn't care that we were running late. I had a breakdown on the trunk of my car, wracked with tears, sobbing at how I was failing my son. My son, who was screaming he hates me from the backseat, refusing to stay buckled, threatening to run into the freeway traffic, my son, my baby boy.
A kind woman came upon us and put her arms around me, just held me. Told me it would get better and just held me. She told my son that he was hurting me and he spat something horrible at her, she took it like a champ and asked if I needed anything else. I was mortified at my actions and with my head still down on the trunk, drowning in tears, I said no. But I was so thankful for her, this stranger, having never looked at her, not knowing her name or anything. I was so very VERY blessed that this woman stopped to comfort me. It doesn't hurt to ask if you can help - some of us accept it, some of us don't. Do what you can. Please be aware and be supportive.