This is one of those posts where I feel like I should preface things with a disclaimer, lest I catch more flak than a low flying Zeppelin over North Korea. This blog entry is not meant as an attack on the parents of spectrum kids; rather, it’s friendly advice from somebody on the spectrum about a different way of handling certain situations.
In my job, I frequently meet kids on the spectrum alongside their parents, teachers, aides, etc. And one thing that sticks out to me is that very often, the adults introducing and discussing the child will do so almost as if the kid isn’t there.
The adults shake hands and say hi. Rarely is the child greeted. The adults then talk about the child; rarely is the child invited to join in the conversation or speak for themselves. In fact, the adults often behave as if the child cannot even hear or understand them. (Pro tip: Never assume that a person on the spectrum, even if they are non-verbal, can’t comprehend what is said around them)
This bothers me a little. As a kid, I didn’t like it when adults spoke for me, or didn’t include me in conversations that involved me. It made me feel left out, and like they didn’t think I was capable of keeping up. Conversely, when adults did include me in the conversation, that was a big confidence boost, because it felt like an acknowledgement by the grownups that I was worthy to be treated as their equal.
Personally, whenever I meet a kid alongside their parent/teacher/aide, I make a point of saying G’day to the them, introducing myself, and asking how they are doing. And if I want to know what their interests are, I’ll ask them directly rather than their adult guardian. If their responses make it clear they’d rather not socially engage at the moment, then I’ll back off and give them some space, but I feel like it’s always worth reaching out and giving them the option, so that they feel valued.
I mean think about it; would we treat an adult this way? Talk about them in front of them like they’re not there? Kids are people too, and they deserve no less respect than adults.
Inclusion is the sunshine from which we photosynthesize our sense of belonging. And when does a plant need sunshine more than when it’s growing?