I know I should be thankful that my child with autism was born at a time when our society is starting to realize there's so much beauty in being different. However, at 5 years old, he's already gotten stares from other people and comments from children making fun of him. My heart sinks every single time. What will it be like when he's a teenager? I've also seen my 7-year-old son watch his friends make fun of his little brother and not know what to do. I know that kids will be kids, but is it too much to ask that these kids have a little more compassion and understanding? No, it's not.
I often get asked when I told my oldest son about his brother's autism. My answer is always, "Not soon enough."
So, where can we start? I think it begins with showing kindness to others. Our kids learn from example, so what you say and do will most likely be what your child says and does. They look to you for guidance from day one, so it's your job to teach them how to show compassion, reach out to those who may be different, and accept people for who they are. Here's the thing, though: it's not hard. I remind my son often to treat everyone the way he likes to be treated.
I often get asked when I told my oldest son about his brother's autism. My answer is always, "Not soon enough." I don't think a child is ever too young to start learning that we're not all the same. Kids don't need to know every detail of the disorder right away, but you can break it down for them in terms they can understand. For example, when I explained to my oldest that his brother has autism and was nonverbal, I asked him how he would feel if every day he woke up and couldn't say a simple "Good morning" or "No" when he didn't want something. He immediately connected to the thought that his brother couldn't speak his mind. His response: "I would not like that."
"Don't stare" — that was a phrase I remember hearing when I was growing up. Now that I'm part of the family that people quickly look away from, I don't think it's OK at all. I get wanting privacy and giving people space, but pretending to ignore a person to avoid offending them can't be what we teach our children to do. "Can I do anything?" or "You got this!" are much more acceptable and encouraging for our kids to see. Remember, we are all in this thing called life together.
Being a parent is the hardest job in the world. Parenting a child with autism is like trying to do that job while also standing on your head. It is hard and can't be done alone. So I need all you parents out there to start being kind and helping your kids embrace the beauty of being different. If we can do that, we won't need to tell our kids anything; they'll just learn to love . . . and do it really well.