Monday, July 18, 2011

You have to say something.

Ryan was playing with his cousins at a big extended-family hoohah at my parents' house this weekend. Miller is 4, Ryan is 5, Dylan is 6. They went to the park together, played in the sprinkler, suckered us into a trip to the ice cream truck. A good day.

The boys spent a solid hour playing with a bucket of Moon Sand. I don't know what this crap is made of, but it somehow maintains the perfect level of moisture for building - we've had this bucket for a couple of years, and the sand never dries out. I'm sure it's somehow lethal.

Ryan, Miller, and Dylan redecorate the patio.

At one point during this hour, Stu and I were supervising. Dylan was using a medicine cup to make inch-high sandcastles. He announced that he was building a row of 10 of them. Ryan didn't get the memo, and he reached over, took one of the little castles, and crumbled it. Dylan got understandably annoyed.

"Ryan, stop it!"

I told Ryan to leave Dylan's castles alone. Stu tried to reassure Dylan that there was plenty of sand for everyone.

Ryan broke another castle. And another. I told Ryan to keep his hands to himself.

"Ryan broke my sand!" Dylan complained to Stu and me.
Despite our efforts, Ryan couldn't grasp the concept of "my sand" vs. "your sand." Dylan got understandably pissed off.

"You can't just break other people's things, Ryan!" he shouted.

"You're being mean," Miller said to Ryan, rallying to Dylan's defense.

"He's bad," Dylan told Miller. "Let's just ignore him.  Let's not even talk to him."

All three boys continued playing with sand.

Stu whispered to me, "You have to say something," but I didn't know what to say, or who he thought I needed to say something to. 

Dylan and Miller were being perfectly age-appropriate, but Ryan was unable to follow the accepted rules for how to play with sand, and they called him out on it. They were right: you can't just knock down other kids' sand castles; we've had this conversation before. Ryan didn't understand that he had done anything wrong, but I couldn't handle hearing NT kids call my kid "mean" and "bad" because of it, or saying "let's not even talk to him."

So I told Ryan to play with his own sand and leave other kids' castles alone.

Exasperated, Miller ranted at Ryan, "She doesn't need to tell you that 100 times!"

At this point, if I had been thinking rationally, I would have told Miller to mind his business. But I was choking back tears at this point. I sat on the patio near Ryan so I could intervene if he reached for Dylan's sand again.

After a few minutes, Dylan stared at me and asked me, "Why are you still here?"

It was just too much for me to explain why I was still on the patio. That yes, Ryan does need to be told things 100 times. That Ryan's not trying to be mean or bad, but he doesn't yet know how to play with other kids appropriately.

I made a hasty, tearful exit from the party.

When I later explained to my cousins what had made me so upset, Miller and Dylan's mothers said they were going to talk to the boys and try to teach them about autism. Miller's mom wrote to me, "I welcome your guidance on how to best get Miller to understand there are differences between him and Ryan. It's really new territory for me."

I was thrilled to hear this - these are truly the words every ASD parent wants to hear. And these boys are stuck with each other for life, so this conversation had to happen at some point. I've asked my cousins to consider writing a follow-up guest about how those conversations go. (No pressure, ladies.)

So, how can a parent explain autism to her young child? To be continued...


  1. This is really important stuff you are doing. Kids will be kids. They are cruel and uncensored. But the reaction of their parents to the cruelty and "uncensoredness" is what makes open-minded, accepting little people. Or not.

  2. one of my just-turned-six year old's friends is on the spectrum, and his older brother mentioned to both of my sons that he is autistic - so both of my boys asked me what that meant. I followed the lead of MOM-NOS and talked a little about toaster brains and hair dryer brains and processing differently but just being our friend. Don't know if I made sense, but my kids seemed ok with it, not even the 10 times since that they've seen this particular friend. I'll be interested to follow up on this thread of yours.

  3. oops, I'm missing a few words up there - it's supposed to say, "my kids seemed ok with it and it didn't make much difference to them, not even the 10 times since that they've seen this particular friend".


Keep it civil, people.