All kids make mistakes while they are growing up, and while it’s important to acknowledge their age and show them a little grace, sometimes those mistakes need to be turned into learning opportunities.
Especially when it involves another person’s safety or consent, pointed out the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.
Redditor bleachthrowaway2023 was shocked when she was nearly sprayed in the eyes with bleach by one of her customer’s children.
But when the mother excused the behavior away by pointing out he was autistic, the Original Poster (OP) wondered if she was wrong to be critical of what happened.
She asked the sub:
“AITA for telling off a customer at work for her Autistic son’s stim?”
One of the OP’s regular customers had a son with a unique habit.
“I (23 Female) work at a grocery store as a cashier.”
“Over the summer, I was temporarily located in the garden department in the parking lot, which I’ve been doing every year for approximately three years.”
“We have a regular whose son (between 6 and 8 years old) has Autism. Apparently, one of his stims is spraying bottles. Like the cleaning kind. I didn’t know this until this incident.”
“Our setup for the garden area till is kind of a U- or C- shape. We have a cart with the till so it can be taken inside overnight and two tables bolted together.”
“One table has a shelf underneath where we keep various paper towels and cleaning stuff (including a bottle of diluted bleach), as well as bags for customers buying non-plant items, pots that customers have brought back for recycling, garden gloves for the employees, etc.”
“Around the whole thing is a table skirt that’s attached to the table. I really have no say in the set-up beyond moving things around on the shelf.”
The customer’s son’s interest in spray bottles became an issue during a recent visit.
“Anyway, one day, this mom brought her kid in. I saw him trying to reach AROUND the table legs to the cleaning supplies.”
“I moved them down the shelf closer to me and told him those bottles are for cleaning, not for touching. I asked him to please leave them alone.”
“Then I got started scanning his mom’s stuff.”
“Out of nowhere, a bunch of droplets hit my sunglasses and cheeks. I looked over, and the kid had pulled the table skirt, which was zip-tied tightly to the table away, stuck his arm through, grabbed the bottle of bleach, and started spraying it around.”
The OP acted quickly.
“I quickly grabbed it from him as his mom laughed and reminded me he’s Autistic. She said he has a spray bottle of water at home that he likes to spray people with.”
“This is where I might be TA. I told her that first off, she shouldn’t be encouraging him to spray people with ANYTHING without their consent.”
“And second, that wasn’t water, it was bleach, and they were both lucky I was wearing sunglasses because I could’ve gone blind.”
The incident escalated.
“She was really offended and again tried to tell me he was Autistic.”
“I said that may be an excuse for him not to realize, but she needs to be paying closer attention to her kid in public places if he’s going to do stuff like that.”
“She hasn’t brought her kid in since. I feel bad because he was a nice kid, and I don’t know how much help she has at home, but I still feel like what I said was true.”
“AITA for telling off the mom of an Autistic child and prompting her to stop bringing him back?”
Fellow Redditors weighed in:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some were concerned the customer’s son had not learned proper safety precautions.
“Autistic mom of an Autistic kiddo here. You are NTA. Stims serve an important purpose in our lives, but there are limits, and this is so far beyond what is acceptable and understandable.”
“That mom is also not doing her child any favors by not educating him on when and where it’s okay to spray bottles, i.e. only at home and/or where you know for a fact that what’s in it is safe, or one day it’ll be his own eyes he sprays with bleach.” – apple_amaretto
“Why not have her son bring his own empty spray bottle if it’s an absolute must? Her attitude towards this behavior is only going to get them in trouble sooner or later.”
“My great-grandmother went completely blind after cleaning with bleach and rubbing her eyes when she was very young. It ATE her corneas. She used to feel my face to know what I looked like and spent 3/4 of her life blind. You seriously dodged a major bullet here, OP!”
“You were way nicer than most would be, and I commend you for that. Maybe follow up with her and reiterate the seriousness of this, or show this post to her so she sees that others with autism agree with you. It may help her realize she’s not taking this seriously enough. He almost blinded you for life. Absolutely NTA.” – northeastcreep
“Full disclaimer: I don’t have autism or an autistic child, and I would never claim that parenting an autistic child is easy. But I gotta say that this particular scenario sounds relatively simple.”
“Buy him two brightly colored spray bottles. One, he can have water in to spray outside. Another he can’t have water in but can take wherever he wants and squeeze. Teach and reinforce that these are the only two spray bottles he can use, and the one with water can only be used outside on plants/concrete.”
“If he’s having trouble with that lesson, spray something like vinegar into the air near him (I have a spray bottle of that for cleaning) and have him smell that it’s yucky. That should help him realize that not every spray bottle is safe, and he needs to stick to his.”
“By all means, meet your child’s sensory needs. But for heaven’s sake, find a way to do that that doesn’t involve him spraying random spray bottles in people’s faces! What poor parenting.” – etds3
“NTA, my son is three, almost four, with ASD nonverbal, and let me tell you. That is a dangerous stim that should have been corrected out with ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapy, NOT encouraged.”
“Just on the sole reason of what happened to you. What if he did that with bleach or Windex to a toddler or baby? They start screaming, he runs off, and no one knows why the kid is screaming.”
“Autism is a disability, but it’s not an excuse. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
“My son would be considered ‘high functioning’ or will need less care to help him as he learns more. It’s very important to teach right or wrong because, like with a neurotypical, it’s hard to unteach. With neural divergence, it’s even harder to unteach bad behaviors.” – Dear_Captain_2748
“NTA. As with any child, responsibility for his actions falls on the parent or caretaker, especially since his autism further reduces his ability to identify acceptable behavior.”
“You were correct to call her out on it. She needs to be proactive in ensuring he doesn’t get ahold of chemical spray bottles, not dismiss a nearly serious incident just because ‘that’s how he is.'” – Free_Ad_7708
Others agreed but were more concerned about the son understanding consent.
“Giving him a play bottle with water is not a good idea. Electronics are everywhere nowadays and most of the time not cheap.”
“He needs to learn about consent, and if he struggles with it, his mom has to be on high alert or have help who can keep an eye on him. Spray bottles often contain dangerous chemicals, so it would be kind of a miracle if this is the first time he caused harm by spraying someone on the face.”
“Also speaking as an Autist (level 1); Spraying someone on the face doesn’t sound like a stim… Stimming is mostly rhythmic or obsessive (or both). This sounds more like the guy is trying to make contact with you. I could also be wrong, but it just sounds kinda off to me.” – FarahSter
“Spraying people with a water bottle is not a stim. A stim requires repetitive motion/sound. He’s just spraying people indiscriminately.”
“I have autism/ADHD. So do my two kids. We have a veritable plethora of stims between us. We also live by the mantra, ‘You are entitled to your feelings. You are not entitled to inflict them on others.’ We don’t let our stims affect other people. Managing them is our responsibility, and before they were big enough to manage it on their own, it was my responsibility.”
“My youngest is six. He still sometimes needs help with redirection and self-regulation. So I help him. Because I’m the adult, and that’s my job.” – WastelandMama
“NTA. The mom is using her son being autistic as an excuse for not parenting. When he first tried to grab the bottles, she should’ve made him stand out of reach of the shelves or been watching him like a hawk to intercept any attempted bottle sprays.”
“The fact she laughed when he sprayed you really shows that she doesn’t recognize that her son’s actions are actually disruptive and, in this case, dangerous. Not cute or funny. Even if it was just water, it’s still not okay to spray someone. His mom obviously knows about this behavioral tendency, yet does nothing to try and prevent it.”
“You did nothing wrong. Don’t feel bad at all. It really was lucky you were wearing sunglasses. Even very dilute bleach can really mess you up if it gets in your eyes.” – Probswearingsweats
“Autistic mom here (meaning, I’m the one with Autism. No idea about my kiddo yet!): Him having autism doesn’t give him a pass for doing whatever he wants.”
“She should be teaching him that he can’t be grabbing any bottle he sees and spraying and should be considering different strategies for publicly-acceptable stimming behaviors that are similar. If that means he can carry his special bottle wherever…. fine, but he still has to learn that the spray can only be directed toward the ground, or whatever.”
“Also, the mom needs to learn how to help her son not reach a point where he needs to stim to calm down.”
“Like, ‘Huh, he seems to get really overstimulated in environments where X, Y, and Z are present. I know all of those things will be at the garden department. Maybe I should talk with him about it beforehand, tell him what I know so he won’t be surprised, and ask him what he thinks will help him deal with the situation, so he can bring that thing with him, or we’ll know that he’ll stay in this one particular area to wait, or whatever?'”
“This is all to say, it’s 100% on her. All kids have to learn boundaries, and I understand if that’s even harder for her to teach her son due to his autism, so I do understand if she’s just exhausted.”
“However, spraying mystery fluids AT PEOPLE (also without their consent) just has to be a hard and fast no that she rallies to ensure is upheld, at all times. She shouldn’t have tried to make you feel like your response was unreasonable, because it wasn’t.”
“NTA.” – hungaryforchile
After receiving feedback, the OP shared a clarification and an update.
Content Warning: Sexual Harassment
“Soooo my post got shared over on the “Am I the Angel?” subReddit, and people think it’s fake so to clear some things up…”
“This story is 100% real. I wish it weren’t. I wish I haven’t had several people tell me I shouldn’t have gone off on her. I wish she had had the forethought to bring a spray bottle. I really wish.”
“She still comes in, she just comes in alone.”
“Yes, I did inform management. My direct supervisor that day thought it was funny that I went off on her. My manager didn’t care at all about the situation.”
“These are the same people who let a customer harass and grope me for an ENTIRE shift (yeah, that happened) and literally just made me stand there and take it. No one spoke to him. No one offered to move me to another station. No one did anything except stand back and laugh.”
“I’m quitting this summer after I graduate from university. Woo!”
The subReddit applauded the OP for handling the situation so calmly and also pointing out to this customer that her son needed to learn the value of consent because that did not appear to be something she was yet teaching him.
Fortunately for everyone involved, no one was hurt, but it’s only a matter of time until the customer’s son sprays something he shouldn’t directly into someone’s eyes or mouth.