I’m not sure if this parenting moment stayed with me because April is Autism Awareness Month or because of my overall heightened wish to build acceptance towards those with attention, academic, or social differences. Either way, I thought it would be worth sharing…
My son Gabe is a fourth grader, and a boy in his grade (I’ll call him Evan), whom everyone knows has autism because the class and school have talked about it with parent support, was being mocked and laughed at because he has trouble with impulse control. From what I have heard, Evan turns many conversations into potty talk. Gabe has been upset about the way Evan is treated, and decided he wanted to talk to me about how he could support him. I provided some insight and concrete suggestions and felt proud that Gabe was willing to stand up for a peer who was not being accepted by other kids.
Then, just a week later, Gabe was complaining about a different boy at school (I’ll call him Scott), saying he didn’t like this boy. I asked why, and he said, “He is mean and is a bully. He does things that only he thinks are funny.” Scott is a boy who also has a diagnosis (attention challenges) and trouble controlling his impulses, although the other kids do not know. Without disclosing any information that the family might not be comfortable with, I encouraged Gabe to think about Scott in the same way that he thinks about Evan. I explained to Gabe that both Scott and Evan have a hard time controlling their own impulses, and that if we can look at all people and their behavior with curiosity and compassion, maybe we could help the situation and not get frustrated.. We all make mistakes and forget to think about the impact that our behavior has on others from time to time.
Gabe was surprised. He’d assumed Scott just wanted to be mean. He didn’t know that a lack of impulse control could be related to what he called “bullying” behavior. This was a teachable moment for me too. Our conversation made me realize (once again) how important it is to talk to kids to help them develop empathy and awareness about why people behave as they do. To not assume and to look at each situation and person’s behavior with curiosity. If we don’t raise these issues and model compassion, kids won’t understand that some people struggle in various ways and that learning and social differences are sometimes invisible, but still affect the ways people act. Most people/kids are innately good, and if we can view them like that, we can see the world in a different light and build understanding and acceptance. These conversations with Gabe were a reminder to me that I need to talk with my kids repeatedly about these types of issues if I expect them to “deduct” the root of a situation, not just see the overt behavior and be compassionate towards others to ultimately develop acceptance toward other people’s differences.