When it isn’t obvious

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This past weekend, my family and I went to a pool party to celebrate a friend’s 2nd birthday. The party started late in the day – 4:30. And, as is typical during the months of August in Georgia, the day was hot and the humidity was high.

The pool provided the perfect place to find cooling comfort, assuming you wanted to be seen wearing your bathing suit in public. As for me? Yeah, no public viewings of bathing suit attire, thanks. (You’re welcome.) Thankfully, I had a friend who also chose not to share her body in a bathing suit to the viewing public. So, she and I sat, sweating, watching those around us.

One of the girls I noticed at the party seemed to socialize with folks in spurts. I chatted with her Mom briefly. Well, she chatted with me, actually. She was telling me how she would be open to having more kids, but her 45 yr old ‘well’ was dry. (Seems I’m not the only one to share too much information.) She pointed out her ‘baby’ to me, who was this boy with a body perfectly built to play a tackler in football. Come to find out, he is on the high school football team, and he is a tackler. She didn’t point out her daughter to me, though as the party came to a close, it was apparent the girl I had noticed earlier was her daughter.

Towards the end of the party, the hostess was cleaning up the leftovers. The girl asked for a cupcake, but the cupcakes had already been taken away and/or eaten. This girl, around age 12, became quite upset. She did not become the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory character, Veruca Salt, “I want a cupcake!” kind of upset; instead, she became intensely angry. Initially, I assumed her reaction was due to the intense heat and end of the day exhaustion, but I soon realized there was more to her behavior than heat and exhaustion.

As people began to leave, the girl became more and more agitated. She was screaming, throwing herself in the pool, biting her arm, running around, etc. Joe and Charlie watched her behavior, and I could tell the wheels were turning in their little heads. My friend let me know that her neighbor’s daughter was Autistic, which – of course – explained the irregular behavior.

I started gathering our things, and I let our boys know it was time for us to go. Suddenly, I noticed my oldest was starting to act out. His reaction towards me was out of character and mimicking (ever so slightly) the girl’s behavior. When we were in the car, I explained to the boys that the girl was not being bad, she was battling a disorder. But, how do you explain Autism to children? Autism is not an ‘obvious’ disorder or disability. Which got me thinking . . .

When I was in elementary school (during my 1st-3rd yrs), my Mom assisted in the Specialized Learning Development and General Learning Disability classroom. When my class was done for the day, I would spend the rest of the time waiting for my Mom in her classroom. I was exposed to special needs kids at an early age. And, whether by their walk, facial expressions or speech, their disability was obvious.

If someone strolls up to you in a wheelchair, her special need is obvious (generally speaking). If someone walks up to you with a walking stick and assisted by a K9, his special need is obvious (again, generally speaking). Sometimes, one can tell easily if another person has a special need; however, there are some disorders/disabilities that are less obvious. Autism, Aspergers, depression, manic/depression, controlled psychizophrenia, etc. How do parents explain the ‘accepted’ behavior of one child, which would be considered an ‘unaccepted’ behavior of another child?

While in the car driving home, I tried to explain to the boys that the girl was not misbehaving per se. (I didn’t actually say ‘per se’.) I tried to explain that she didn’t understand how to interact on certain levels, etc. And my oldest, who I yelled at for doing similar things he saw the girl do, said, “But Mom, she’s older than me. She should know better.” Again I ask, how does one explain behaviors of another, based on whether or not the person has special needs?

Saturday afternoon/evening proved to be interesting. My friend and I talked about situation this morning. Going back to my childhood, I don’t know that I fully understood the kids in the classroom where my Mom worked. To me, the kids were just kids who did things differently. But again, their differences were more obvious than the mental and emotional disorders faced by countless others.

Based on the reaction of my boys, they saw the girl at the pool as a ‘normal’ girl behaving ‘badly’, and their interpretation isn’t a bad thing. However, I found myself challenged on how to explain why it is “okay” for someone to behave one way, when it is not okay for another person to do the exact same thing, especially when the issue is not obvious through the eyes of a child (or the adult).

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