Saturday, December 15, 2012
I stood off to the side, chatting with Sean and with our grown-up friends.
We were a happy pride of children and parents, celebrating life in the wake of a national tragedy.
Some of us were a little weepy as we watched our children's six year old forms and thought of the equally tiny bodies in Connecticut that lost their lives earlier this week.
(some of us are weepy again just typing that)
In the middle of the playscape perched a boy in a cheery red turtleneck sweater. He sat on a four-wheeled scooter type platform, and rolled back and forth across a bridge. YH clambered up the rungs near the boy and began to move past him. The boy thought YH was trying to take his scooter and he exclaimed in a loud and flat voice "I'm not sharing my scooter with anyone--not even you."
There was something about his tone and his word choice that triggered the alarms of our pack of children and big sister Miss A immediately confronted the boy.
"You can't talk to my little brother that way. He wasn't even trying to take your scooter."
And as she spoke her friends formed a tight circle around her, and the boy.
I saw the boy's mother watching the scene unfold from a nearby bench. I walked up to her and said, in a light-hearted voice "Are they ganging up on your son?"
She was calmly watching the interaction--which continued in rapid back and forth between the boy and Miss A. The boy's mother turned to me and said, "The thing is, he's on the autism spectrum so he doesn't always understand what other kids are trying to tell him. Especially about his tone, or how to make friends, or if they're inviting him to play."
At this point I heard Miss A raise her voice a notch and try to reinforce the finer points of her argument, her defense of her littlest brother.
"Oh," I said to the mother, "I understand. Would you like me intervene? Get my kids to back off?"
"No," she said."This kind of thing can be good for him--he might learn from it..."
She sat with straight posture, watching her son unravel the mystery of his peers.
Her eyes were bright with concentration, her shoulders set with resolve.
Eventually our kids began to splinter off, to leave the scene of the conflict.
The boy in the red sweater sat on his scooter and rolled back and forth.
His mom got up and walked to him; she spoke soflty in his ear and he responded loudly.
"I DID NOT DO THAT."
"WHEN PAPA GETS HOME I AM TALKING TO HIM ABOUT THIS."
"I WASN'T EVEN TALKING TO THAT BOY."
"I DON'T UNDERSTAND."
In the car on the way home we talked about how some people's brains work differently from other people's brains. How making friends and understanding social cues comes easily to some people, but is very hard for others. We talked about how for most people, a person's words are only a tiny piece of what he/she is saying. His/her body posture and inflection add to the words and can change the meaning of the words.
Miss A got it. I knew she would.
The exchange stayed with me all night. I turned it over and over in my mind, making it shiny with worry.
I wish I had said something to the boy's mother.
I wish I had told her that we were also raising a child who is not neurotypical; that our son could face similar challenges.
I wish I had let her know that I saw her son as just a kid. A kid with some challenges, but not a bad kid or a mean kid or a kid I pitied.
Especially in light of the news out of Connecticut, that the person who committed an awful crime was on the spectrum; especially because of the potential fall-out from that information.