By Amy McCabe, Special Care Nursery Nurse and Center for Community Health & Wellness Educator, Lowell General Hospital
Over the Labor Day weekend, our family went camping with some great friends.
Traveling with three small children is never easy, but traveling with a child with autism seems to double the pressure and the stress of being away from home.
With that said, we encountered an amazing experience that I wanted to share about how wonderful children can be – and I believe it is completely due to parenting.
Our camping trip involved two other families, each with 3 and 2 children respectively. The other kids ages ranged from 11 to 2 years old. My two girls, ages 6 and 4, blended perfectly with the others. They are able to run around, play and quickly mix with this group of kids. My son, Frankie, struggles with these outings. As you may remember from my introductory blog, Frankie is seven years old and is a non-verbal autistic child. He can not speak and has a lot of difficulty with new surroundings and change in general. He rarely “plays” with other kids, and prefers to do his own thing independently.
This story is not about Frankie, but just how amazing even the youngest of children can be.
Throughout the course of our trip, not once did I witness anything but compassion, acceptance and understanding from these other kids. While I am fairly certain they can not grasp the concept of autism or why this boy does not talk or play normally like other kids, they were remarkable with him throughout our trip. I frequently caught these kids saying hello to Frankie, asking him how he is doing and trying to engage him in simple play. Never a snicker, an off-color remark, or a stare. My husband and I found that to be absolutely incredible. In fact, they were enthralled by his iPod touch which he uses for recreation as well as communication.
The other kids were even asking to learn more sign language once we taught them some of Frankie’s basic signs!
I remember the days when I was in school and, sadly, teasing children that were different seemed to be a common and somewhat accepted practice. Witnessing the maturity and compassion of these kids gave us hope that maybe society has changed?
Every parent wants their children to have friends and be accepted by their peers, but when you have a child with special needs you know that it will be an uphill battle.
While I can not be certain, I am confident in the fact that these kids were so great with Frankie is because they have great parents. While I am not a fly in any of these families’ homes, my guess is they took a few minutes to explain what Frankie is all about and how to deal with him.
Teach your children that being different is normal. Teach them to be understanding of others. Teach them the “golden rule” – treat others as you would want to be treated.
Teach them like our great friends taught their kids. You have no idea how much it could mean to a child and their family.