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.

A Growing Fence

Wow! I didn't realize how long it has been since my last post until I
started getting emails from readers asking how we are doing. It is so
humbling to know that there are people out there who you have never met,
but become concerned when you don't update your blog. Thank you so much!

The past week or so has been very eventful and busy. We were blessed
recently to be able to replace our old car. We now have a "new to us"
jeep that is only 6 yrs old and is very nice condition. It is such a
relief on both my beloved and I to have a reliable vehicle again. Once
we got the car, we have been trying to get caught up on things we were
unable to do over the past few months without a car.

The weather lately is becoming even more reliable for gardening. I now
have potting soil and plenty of little containers for starting seeds.
As soon as the raised beds are ready, I will have the little plants
ready to transplant. In previous years, the last frost occurred in late
April. With the mild winter we had, our planting season began a month
earlier than usual. Already some families have planted their root crops
and a few salad greens. It seems unusual to me to think that in
mid-April I am already behind in my garden planting.

This year, we are doing our garden in a completely new way. We are
turning completely to the method of raised beds. One reason being that
it will be far less work for me to maintain. I won't have to bend down
or get on my knees in the garden to weed or manage the plants. The
second reason is that we will have more control over the critters that
like to use our garden as their personal buffet. We are recycling old
shipping crates and pallets to make the garden. The garden beds will be
about waist high and lined with the leftover black weed barrier plastic
from last year. The plastic will hold in the dirt while still allowing
the extra water to drain through.

I have a copy of Mel Bartholomew's book, Square Foot Gardening, which I
bought last summer. In the book, he gives his "recipe" for a no-weed
soil planting mixture. It contains peat moss, vermiculite, and
composted soil. The peat moss and vermiculite loosens the soil as well
as providing a great method for holding in moisture. This is a big
concern if you live in a drought area. The composted soil provides
nutrients the plants need. One of the best parts of his soil mixture is
that it makes the gardening much easier to manage. You have a
relatively weed-free garden. The only weeds that it may produce are
those grown from seeds that may have blown into the raised bed on a
windy day. I used the square foot gardening method years ago when I
lived in an upper desert region. It was very successful. I had a much
larger harvest than when I tried gardening in the traditional way. This
year's garden may be much smaller than I would have planted in the
ground, but as we are able to add more raised beds, I will have an
expanded garden area to use.

An extra benefit to this garden is that Beloved is having it set up as a
fence line along one side of the children's play yard. We are going to
let each of them plant a few vegetables in their own little garden
beds. Little Miss and our 6 yr old grandson have each picked out a
couple of favorite vegetables that they would like to plant. I am
excited to watch them plant and tend their little garden areas. It will
be fun to see them get excited about the plants blooming and producing
the veggies.

Having this growing fence line is such a wonderful idea. My Beloved is
such a clever man to think of it! We plan to plant cherry tomatoes and
possibly some strawberries that the children can snack on if they get
hungry while playing in the yard. Both Little Miss and our grandson
love strawberries and cherry tomatoes. Who knows? We may end up having
to plant a strawberry bed and a cherry tomato plant for each of the kids
so that they all get enough to snack on.

I am amazed that the garden is only going to cost us the cost of nails
and the soil mix. The recycled crates and pallets are free from a
lumber yard in a town about 25 miles from home. If you ask around, you
may find old pallets that are being given away. Businesses that receive
their order shipments on a pallet have to pay to have the old ones
hauled off when they are done using them. If you ask, you may find that
they are willing to give away the old pallets for free or ask only a
very small price for them. The lumber yard that we got ours from gives
the old ones away but sells new pallets for $6.00 each. Prices depend
on the business. You might find some through Craig's List or the local