Saturday, April 14, 2012

Teaching Compassion

Raising a child with autism disorder is a challenge and a blessing to
many parents of children with autism.We are challenged in the struggle
to help our child to reach their potential.We are blessed to have these
special ones in our lives.They bring joy to our families.We find each
and every milestone that they reach to be an event to be celebrated, for
we know how hard they have had to work to reach that goal.

There are times though when reality will slap us in the face.A recent
experience at a church function was a good illustration of that
statement.First, let me say that the other child involved meant no
malice towards my son.The situation is a great example of a "typical"
experience with children not familiar with special needs.I relate this
story so that it will hopefully bring about awareness in others,
especially in the teaching of their children in how to show compassion.

Our church held a block party the day before Easter.We had a great time
and even Pookie was enjoying himself.At one point, a little girl came up
to try and talk with him.She looked to be about 10 years old and was
very sweet in trying to say "hello" to Pookie.When he didn't respond to
her, I explained that he has autism and cannot talk.She looked unsure of
how to handle the situation.I explained that she can play with and talk
to Pookie.He would enjoy it.He just plays differently than other
kids.After a moment or two, she walked away and never approached him again.

I don't have any bad feelings towards her for her reaction.It was simply
a new experience for her and she did not know how to interact with
Pookie.As for him, Pookie didn't seem to notice at that moment.He was
too involved playing with a toy maraca that he had been given earlier in
the day.The experience does illustrate the reaction that many autistic
and other special needs children (and adults) face.In the training of
our children to be kind to others, are we teaching them to not fear or
be uncertain in how to interact with others who are not like them?As
Pookie's momma, I welcome questions about him.I would much rather deal
with the questions than having someone misunderstanding Pookie and why
he acts differently than they do.

That experience was not the first time that a child has walked away from
Pookie because of his being different.Unfortunately, it will be a
reoccurring event throughout his childhood.While he doesn't seem to
notice what happens around him, I am seeing a growing awareness in
Pookie.He notices the little things.He cries and fusses each week when
his sister is gone for the day without him.He gets upset if he wants to
play with Little Miss & Tank when they are busy with a game he cannot
join in on.It may not happen often, but it does from time to time.It's
no different than when any younger child wants to play with older
siblings, but the siblings are playing a game the younger one is too
little to join in with.

On the flip side of the equation, I was so humbled to see how our Pastor
and a few others set the example for the other children. At the block
party there was an inflatable bounce house set up. When I first
approached it with Pookie, Little Miss had already gone in it and was
having a lot of fun jumping and playing with other kids. Pookie heard
the sounds of the fan and the kids' at play. He got frightened and
wanted nothing to do with it. The 2 ladies that were overseeing the
children asked them if they would mind climbing out long enough for
Pookie to try to go in. Their were no complaints. The ladies explained
that he was afraid and the kids seemed understanding. When Pookie showed
no signs of wanting to go in, the kids went back to playing. Later in
the day, our Pastor and another gentleman were overseeing the bounce
house. There was a group of kids in there having a lot of fun, Little
Miss was among them. When Pookie approached the bounce house, actually
touching the entrance/exit point, we took the opportunity. As I removed
his and my shoes, our Pastor spoke to the children inside. he explained
that Pookie was coming in and asked if they could not be loud or jump
too close to him. Now, I must state that most o the kids have seen
Pookie at church and realize that he is different. Many know he has
autism, though they may not understand what that means. Well, the kids
were very sweet and quieted down a bit and allowed Pookie and I to get
in. He was very nervous, but when I sat in the bounce house, he simply
laid in my lap until he felt comfortable. Kids were bouncing and having
fun around us, but staying just far enough away as to not frighten him.
The bouncing motion, after a few moments, had calmed him enough to get
on his knees in front of me and bounce. We were only in the bounce house
a few minutes, but it was a huge progress for Pookie. He had faced a
fear and dealt with it. I was so proud of him. I was especially proud
and at the same time humbled, by the compassion that was shown towards
him. Our Pastor helped the kids to gently ease Pookie as he faced a
fear. Their willingness to do so without complaint or fuss was a
precious experience to behold.

It is not a comfortable reality to know that our Pookie, as well as many
others with special needs, will face times when children are uncertain
how to approach or interact with them. It is the responsibility of all
parents to teach compassion to their children. Not only through words,
but by example. If you know that your child has a classmate or maybe
even a neighbor that has a disability or other special needs issue, try
to find out about that special need. Talk to your kids about it. Maybe
even take the time to get to know the parents & family yourself. Set the
example for your children. If possible, invite the child's family to
your home so that your child can get to know them in a setting that they
feel comfortable in. It has been my experience that if a child is given
the opportunity to see compassion in action by their parents, along with
being given time to be around others who are different than themselves,
the children will most often become at ease around special needs children.

If you are the parent of a special needs child, I feel that we have a
responsibility to help ease the way. Talk to others who are curious.
Don't take offense if someone asks questions. Take the opportunity to
help others understand your child. When they gain a bit of
understanding, it may make it easier for them to interact with your
child. We cannot sit back and bemoan the unfairness of how our children
are treated by others if we are not willing to help ease the way. Just
as children don't understand how to interact with a special needs child,
many adults have never learned either. They don't mean to be rude, they
simply may never have had the opportunity to learn how to interact with
a special needs child or adult. Through your willingness to help ease
the way for others, you are also setting the example for your own
children. They learn how to be compassionate towards others in setting
them at ease in what may be an awkward situation for them. Compassion is
a 2-way street. Just as we would like others to be compassionate towards
our child, we should be compassionate towards others also.

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