Friday, April 04, 2014

Autism Understanding & Acceptance 2014 Day 7: My kids have questions

Another good question came in from a mom, whose children have - on occasion - met a child that is interacting with the world in a way that may seem different to them.  They have questions. “How could I answer their questions in a way that would make your heart smile rather than sound like an ignorant buffoon that is uncomfortable with the question?”

Children are so curious and so honest about their questions.  We’ve been approached ourselves by curious children on a playground who have questions.
That being said, I try to be honest, and I try to appear as open to their questions as possible.  I usually don’t come right out and say “autism”.  They usually are asking why he doesn’t respond to them or talk to them or play with them.  Sometimes they ask why he’s flipping his bracelet or sitting at the top of the slide and not sliding down.  So it depends on the question, so I’ll give a few hypothetical answers:

Q: Why doesn’t he talk?
A: Well, he just doesn’t.  (Shrug shoulders nonchalantly.) Not in the way you and I might be used to, anyway.   His brain just works differently than yours and mine. 
(Note: this usually suffices for young children.  If older, I might add that he’s thinking some really cool thoughts and he’s having a good time – he just doesn’t use words to talk about it.)

Q: Why is he doing that? (Flipping bracelet, etc)
A: He really, really likes it!  What do you like to do?  (Again, this usually suffices for a young child.)

But if they ask directly about why he’s different, or if he has autism, then I usually focus on how his brain works differently.  Not any better or worse, just differently.  It was the way he was born.  We don’t know why.  If the opportunity is still there, I’ll talk about the things he’s really good at, things he likes to do – and try to find things in common.  He thinks his dog barking is really funny!  He likes to kick a soccer ball. 

My favorite question was from a fabulously extroverted young girl at a local playground.  After chatting it up with us and observing T, she asked quite forwardly, “Does he have issues?”  Stifling a burst of laughter, I smiled and said “Well, yes, he does.  He is in the Kindergarten here.  Do you have any students from Ms. ____’s class come join your class?” She grinned and said, “Oh yes!  They are cool.”  And with that, the conversation was done and she was off playing. 

I have found that kids these days are so accepting of difference that it honestly astounds me at times.  Difference, many times, is just not a big deal.  I answer their questions, and they say “Oh, okay!” and go on with their day.  It’s just not a big deal.  And in many cases, especially if your child is school age, they are in a class with a child with special health care needs.  It is part of their normal now. 

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