Our local mall has a soft indoor play area that we frequent on rainy days. Today I had Noah and Desi there while we waited on Tree getting her hair cut.
I noticed early on a kid, maybe 7 or 8, maybe older (I’m a bad judge of age) who was fiddling with his ear as he walked around the play area. I watched him a little and decided it was a tick of some sort. No big deal, whatever, just noticed. Noah is playing, climbing, jumping, having fun. All is well.
Then I see a couple boys, also around 8-10, start to follow the little boy with the tick. This is when I notice he’s also sort of moaning. A third boy joins in, and I hear one of them say “He’s like a zombie!” I start to grow concerned.
A few times the boys try to get in front of him, to get his attention, but he’s kinda got a thousand mile stare. At this point, I decide that if they pass by me again, I’m going to say something to them along the lines of “Leave him alone guys.”
I notice the guy next to me stand up, with a big smile on his face, and approach the boys. He kneels down and looks the three boys right in the eye and begins to talk to them. You can tell they sorta want to disperse, but the man, out of ear shot, seems to be encouraging them to hang around.
He returns to his seat and his wife joins him. We chat a little bit, Desi tries to scratch at them, nothing out of the ordinary. Then one of the three boys approaches the man and asks him something, and the man encourages him to count on his fingers in front of the boy. He then gets up and walks over to him and shows the boys how he can count. They’re pretty far away at this point, so I can’t quite tell what’s going on.
His wife turns to me and says, “He’s autistic. He’s not very verbal.” I can only respond with “Oh. OK.” ‘Cause I truly don’t know what to say. “They don’t know how to speak to him.” Then we just sorta sit there, watching the kids play.
They struck me as such amazing people. I wanted to say something to her before her husband returned, but knew I wouldn’t be able to without crying. I wasn’t going to say anything like “You’re so strong for dealing with this” or anything else that could so easily come off as condescending. I just wanted to tell them that what they did was awesome, and that they taught me something. I was going to tell the boys to “leave him alone” which would have admonished the boys for being curious, and left the other boy by himself, with no one to play with. Instead, these parents decided to teach three little boys how to communicate with their son. It wasn’t their son that had the problem. He was just autistic. It was the three boys who needed to learn how to play with him. Instead of driving away those who don’t understand, they took the chance to TEACH them. The patience to take the time, the will to put their boy out there as an example, the faith that the boys would even listen…it pretty much blew me aware.
I can’t figure out how to sum up this point. I’m just glad I got to learn something so important today. I hope I told the story well enough that you did to.