Compassion for children with ASD
Many years ago, a family asked me out to dinner to thank me for all I did for their autistic son. I was just out of graduate school and had my first two years of teaching in the public school under my belt. I was shocked and I think I said I am not even sure if this is allowed. However, this family was very persistent and we went out to dinner. I met them at their house and followed them to the restaurant. The drive over all I could think about was that episode of The Cosby show and how Mrs. Westlake came over for dinner at the Huxtable house. How perfect the night went and how Theo received a good grade on his math test. I had that same scenario in my head how great the night would be. How very wrong I was. When we arrived at the restaurant their son was very agitated and screaming. His parents just keep saying he wanted to make a turn a while back, he wanted to go somewhere else. They had no way of really knowing as their child was non-verbal and only started communicating with a Picture Exchange System (PECS). I hate to admit it as I am so dating myself, but iPad’s were not yet around. So for all of you who don’t know what PECS was, it was a small 3 ring binder of laminated pictures. The child would look through the book, find the picture of what he/she wanted and hand it to the person they were communicating with. Teachers would have to copy the pictures from a PECS book or if your school district had a disc you could print them out, which mine did not. Then laminate, cut, Velcro and stick them in the book in categories. We would also make sentence strips so the child could make a sentence. This was high tech and a very effective communication system, People! WOW, I cant believe all the work we had to do.
So back to the restaurant. The waiter reluctantly sat us down at a table and their son kept getting out of his seat pacing around our table, screaming. I went into action and tried my best to calm him down. I got him in his seat however he was still screaming. I looked at his parents and really didn’t know what else to do when the waiter came over and told us if he didn’t stop screaming he would have to ask us to leave. OMG we are getting kicked out of the restaurant! I was in panic mode. I tried my best to calm him down, but was unsuccessful. His parents asked the waiter for some roles to eat. And that was it! When the waiter brought over the rolls, he started eating and was calm. Wasn’t their first rodeo.
Fast forward many years and my family and I are at a car racing track. It was a promotional day to get kids into driving go-carts. These were the real deal go-carts. They went fast. After signing the waiver for all three boys and getting them dressed in the fire proof gear and helmet, it was time for them to drive. First, my youngest who speed around the track like a pro. Then my middle son who after his first lap driving into the infield at top speed decided to take it easy the rest of the laps. Now for my oldest, who was 15, right at the age limit, it was his turn to get in the car. My boys are tall for their age and my oldest was big for 15. He didn’t really fit in the car. He got stuck. Really stuck. My husband and two guys helped out trying to get him out of the car. They were unsuccessful. The two men had to take the car apart to get him out. Then put the car back together for another kid to drive. They kept assuring me that it was an easy task and they were getting a bigger car. I couldn’t believe it. These men were so determined to get my son in a car to drive. They were so patient with him and even encouraging. My son couldn’t move his body the way other kids, basically he doesn’t have the spacial awareness. These men talked him through getting out of the car by saying move your leg this way and your foot that way as they lifted my 175 pound boy out of the car. After all that work I couldn’t believe they wanted to try again, but they did! They got another car that was bigger and guess what? You guessed It! He got stuck again! The men did the same thing, took the car apart, talked to my son through how to get out of the car and put the car back together. When they were getting a third car off a truck that was when my husband and I really had to tell them that we appreciated all that they did, but we needed to end the ordeal. We were so grateful for their patience and what they did to include my son and the fact that even after the second try they still didn’t give up. We knew our son though and knew he was getting very agitated and we actually needed to leave because of this. When we were walking to our car a few families with go-carts offered to let my son drive their car. We had to politely decline. The overwhelming welcoming response and patience of people and families were amazing. My son still talks about that day and he remembers how everyone tried to help him.
I just think back to when I was at that restaurant with my student’s family and how no one offered to help. Not only did they not help, but they told us to leave. They wanted nothing to do with the Autistic boy who was upset and couldn’t communicate what he wanted. How awful for his parents and all the other families who had to deal with a society who wasn’t accommodating for kids with ASD. We have come a long way with acceptance and understanding for people with ASD. Restaurants, facilities, venues all accommodate for ASD. More and more families have a child or family member with ASD and are ready to lend a helping hand.
11 years ago my middle son was diagnosed with PDD at 18 months. I was emotional, exhausted, stressed, scared and felt so alone as I went through the process of getting my son services. I remember sitting at a psychologist office and we just went through the exhausting list of what my son needed. I also had my oldest with me as he was exhibiting problems at preschool. Both boys were sitting on the floor playing with toys and we both looked at them. The psychologist began to tell me that my children will bring the world a lot of tolerance. That is why we have children like this. As I gathered my boys and all my things to walk out of his office, I thought, what an awful thing to say to me… I feel completely alone. But he was right, I get it now!