Unaltered image. Credit: Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office.
Dear Parents of Typical Kids:
Do you know how exceptional many of your children are? Your kids are surprisingly open-minded about others and accepting of those who are different.
I see them learning in school with my eight-year-old son who has autism. I hear them on the playground interacting with him. I watch them in gymnastics class, Sunday school, and swim lessons. They don’t seem to mind when he squeaks because he’s happy or when he protests loudly because a light bulb is burned out.
My heart melts when they gently remind Evan to bow at the end of their music concert or when they wait for him because he takes longer to put his coat on.
As second graders they may not be completely familiar with the word “autism”, but for now they aren’t really interested in labels anyway. I know that this will probably change as they get older, but right now I am ridiculously proud of them and cautiously hopeful that they’ll remain accepting and tolerant.
April is autism awareness month and to build awareness we must all work hard on building understanding and acceptance. As adults we can learn a great deal about acceptance from our kids. Get comfortable with your child in the driver’s seat and let him or her be your guide.
Our children are accustomed to being around others with different needs. Most likely there’s at least one student who comes into the classroom with noticeable physical and or cognitive differences. In our defense, many of us didn’t have anyone with special needs in our classes when we were in school.
Take a moment and ask your children if there are students in their classes who need a little extra help from the adults in their school. If they’re older, ask them if any of their classmates have autism or other special needs. Encourage your children to talk about these students. What makes them unique? What do they like about them? How do they interact with them? What did they learn from having that particular student as a classmate?
I bet you’ll be impressed with their answers.
Many of your kids are a testament to good parenting. You are the parents who teach your children to embrace those who are different. You teach them how to respect others through your words and your actions. Even when you think they aren’t listening or watching, they’re taking in a lot more than you think. Keep up the good work so they continue to grow into altruistic big people.
Some children have compassion in spite of their parents. For every positive interaction I’ve seen from my son’s peers, I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of witnessing negativity, judgment and disdain from adults. For example when my son goes up to strangers and asks if they have spider webs in their basements, he‘s often ignored. Yes, it is a weird question, but not a hard one to answer.
Similarly when my son suddenly has a public meltdown, adults often look at him with hostility or annoyance. It drives me crazy when parents use his meltdown as a teachable moment to show their children how not to behave. While your intentions may be good, there’s a better, non-judgmental way to teach your child.
Instead, ask your child why he or she thinks the other child is acting that way. Most likely your child will say that the kid is being bad. A more open-minded response is to point out that maybe the tantruming child (typically developing or special needs) just got hurt, is scared because he thought he lost his mom, or any number of alternative explanations. While this may or may not be the reason for the child’s meltdown, at least you’re teaching your own child that he or she shouldn’t be so quick to judge because things aren’t always as they seem.
I can guarantee that my son isn’t upset because I won’t let him have a cookie. More likely he’s bothered by a sight, sound or smell that you or I barely notice but to him is an all-out assault on his nervous system. Almost anything can set off a child with autism: from the sound of a fly buzzing to the smell of a burnt pancake. Others are bothered by the slightest change in routine. For example, if the child is used to entering a building through a specific door and that door is locked, a meltdown is likely to follow. Ask your child what sets off his classmate. My son’s peers will tell you that Evan hates it when the teacher turns off the lights.
On behalf of Evan and all the other children with autism, take a moment this month to help build awareness so that our kids continue to grow up in a world that accepts and understands those who are different. And while you’re at it, tell your kids that Evan’s mom says thanks for being so awesome.
—Jen Lovy, Beaumont Parenting Program Volunteer
Editor’s Note: Subscribe to our blog to read posts throughout April for more resources and about living with Autism. You can also search the tag “autism” on our blog. We’d love to hear your story, too. Share it with us in the comments.