Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Great Question

My good friend Danny roped me into helping him with a couple of autism-themed diversity-awareness puppet shows for third graders earlier this week. Danny worked the puppet (Mike, who has a lengthy back story), and I explained to Mike why he should be more understanding of his classmate who doesn't talk much and is prone to meltdowns.

This is Mike's twin brother, Mark. Mike is not in a wheelchair.
The kids had some fabulous questions after the presentations.  My favorite was so simple, it threw me off for a moment:

"How do you know if someone has autism?"

The short answer: you don't always know.

This is part of what makes navigating the world so complicated: if a kid sees someone acting strangely, her impulse might be to laugh at them or exclude them from her game. If it's obvious that there's something atypical about them - like if they had the facial features characteristic of Down Syndrome - that might trigger her to be more compassionate. But if the strangely-acting person looks "normal," compassion might be harder to come by.

That oddly-behaving person is still human, and has all the same feelings as other people, and loves the people in his life and deserves to be treated with compassion. We're trying to teach kids to be respectful of their peers with autism, but the broader message is that we should be respectful of all people.

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Keep it civil, people.