Today I brought my children to the playground. This is something I haven’t been doing frequently since my daughter is only two months old and we have been mostly staying home, adjusting to the new normal. As my son played, I observed the following interaction:
A mother rushed over to the slide area. There were six school aged children gathered at the bottom of the slide, seemingly having some sort of meeting. As the agitated mother rushed over and started yelling, I noticed that a little blonde boy sitting at the edge of the slide was attempting to push a girl away from him. It was a futile attempt since she had already slid down and was wedged behind him. The other children were shouting for the boy to “Move!” and the girl’s mother came closer to the boy and began shrieking, “Oh no! You better not be hitting my baby!”
The boy’s grandfather immediately intervened, informing the angry parent that the boy is deaf, and only speaks in sign language. After a brief interaction, the boy signed “I’m sorry.” to the girl. This was translated by his grandfather. Both parties left seemingly embarrassed by the interaction, for different reasons.
As a speech therapist, I sat there pondering how the situation could have been avoided. I decided that the girl’s mother should have investigated the situation before reacting. I found myself imagining a different ending to the story. That mother could have walked over and thought,
WHAT DOES THIS BOY NEED?
If she had asked him, or even just thought about it for a second, the answer would have been clear. He needed an effective communication system to play with his peers. He needed to be reassured that he was okay after being startled by a child sliding into him, because he couldn’t hear her coming.
After the children left, my son and I played, while I continued to ponder how important it is to ask the question of so many children having a hard time.
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
My son began playing with an older boy who wandered over. I mentioned to his mother that her son was very sweet for playing with my son. She explained that he has autism and was comfortable playing now that all the other kids had left since it was quieter. We chit chatted so more and then she pointed out how odd another child at the park was acting. He was pacing between two poles, with some repetitive movements, near the bus stop. Rather than being quick to judge, the question passed through my mind again,
WHAT DOES HE NEED?
Here’s my point:
Within this twenty five minute period at the park, we encountered two people with disabilities and another child with characteristics of autism. All of these children would have greatly benefited from understanding, acceptance and the question, WHAT DO YOU NEED?
You see, this is April, the month specifically for Autism Awareness. And there’s a whole lot of talk about how we need more than awareness. We know autism is here. We need acceptance of those with ASD in our community. They need more kindness, more understanding, and less judgement. But how do we spread acceptance, not just awareness? What if it all starts with the question, WHAT DO YOU NEED?