Embracing Autistic Friends: A Teachable Moment at Disney World

Autism affects 1 in 110 children, 1 in 70 boys.*  Chances are that your children know at least one friend with autism, and you know another parent with an autistic child.

While we were at Disney World last week, we shared a lunch table with a lovely mom and daughter, since the place was pretty crowded. The little girl was about 6.  She was very talkative, and friendly, and it soon became evident to me that she was autistic.  I have several friends with children on the Autism spectrum, so I’ve tried to learn the behaviors they might have and how to respond.  I also want to be a help to my friends, and be able to try to understand what they are Embrace differencesgoing through, although I never can, fully.  The sweet little girl repeated phrases over and over, and continually asked where their daddy was.  (He was getting the food).   When her mom asked her if she wanted mayonnaise with her fries, she warned several times, “Do NOT get mayonnaise in your eye!”  Her mom told us she was remembering the day before, when she in fact did get mayonnaise in her eye!

I began to see my children looking at me to see how I responded to the little girl and her mother. They knew there was something unique about the girl, and I knew it was important that my daughters see me treating her with care and respect.  So I guided the conversation and asked my daughters, as well as our new little friend, questions to facilitate them communicating with each other.

After lunch, my kids asked about her, and we talked about how all people are different.  The girl’s mom had shared during our conversation that she did in fact have autism, so I shared a little about what it is.  I tried to convey to my kids that children with autism think differently than we do, but that’s what makes them special and precious.  They are just as smart, sometimes even more so, but communicate differently, and that’s OK.  I think it is so important not to avoid these “elephant in the room” issues and to teach our kids how to relate to friends who may be a little different from them.

Would you like to meet some of my friends with autistic children? Here are some great links to check out, and awesome moms!

  • In “Letting Go of Perfect,” Nanette talks about her feelings when her child was first diagnosed.
  • Sunday Stilwell ( a friend of a friend) gives “10 Things Autism Has Taught Me About Life”.  It’s a great read, especially if you’re wondering how to understand autism a little better.
About Sarah Pinnix

I'm a mom, blogger, vlogger, libertarian. I love Jesus, and my husband, too. Social Media Strategist for a Non-Profit (All statements here are solely my own)

Comments

  1. Fiona @banteringblonde
    Twitter: banteringblonde
    says:

    I really love you friend, this post embodies so much of who you are as a person. I’ve also had similar experiences with my children and I’m always touched by how innately compassionate children are. It is so important to take these teachable moments while they are young and even if you are someone who feels uncomfortable or awkward with others differences or challenges it’s important to really dig deep and make your best effort to communicate with your children in this way because we ultimately set the example and that example WILL be followed. As my kids get older I’ve really tried to watch the way they behave in certain situations and the look inward-am I always the best example? Nope… but the beauty of life is that is a journey and as long as we are always striving for better we can make meaningful impact on our children and others. Was so good to spend some time with you-it never seems like enough time, I always wish you were my neighbor 😉

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  2. Oh Sarah this is so beautifully written and show’s you sweet, compassionate heart. It also shows that your trip had as much to do with your family as anything and I love that about you. Thank you for sharing this tender moment and reminding everyone how important it is that we look outward and not constantly focus on ourselves. The world is a beautiful mosaic if only we choose to see it clearly that way. Big hug =)

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing this story. As the mother of a 5 year old with autism, I know the importance of teaching our children to be caring and inclusive. More importantly, as parents, we need to remember to give each other grace as well. When my son has a “moment” and is melting down in Walmart, it is always those kind smiles and words of encouragement that touch me most. However, those glaring stares that say “get that rotten kid out of here” can sting!

    Once again, Sarah, you have really put things in perspective and helped open people’s eyes to the beauty of the diversity around us.

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    Sarah
    Twitter: reallifesarah
    Reply:

    Thank you sweet Tiffany! I always learn SO much from you in that respect as well!! I’m thankful to have you as a friend!

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  4. Maricris
    Twitter: MaricrisG
    says:

    This reminds me of a day when my daughter’s school had Special Children day. They brought in a child with down syndrome and all my daughter could say was “she’s different mama but she’s very special and I like her”. Teaching acceptance and understanding is definitely a lesson beyond golden. Our children mirrors what they see from us, you’re a great example Sarah!

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  5. Kelly
    Twitter: centsiblelife
    says:

    As the mom of 2 special needs kids I want to thank you for your kind heart and your words here. It means so much to know there are people that try hard to understand and share with their children how to interact with someone who is different but still amazing.

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

  6. Stimey
    Twitter: Stimey
    says:

    Wow. I really love this post. As the mom of a child with autism, you are exactly the kind of person that I hope my kid is able to encounter in the world. You, and people like you, give me a lot of hope for the future. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  7. So super-de-duper love what you did!! And I loved seeing you last week. Miss you already!

    [Reply]

  8. I wish more moms and dads would share with their children what our kids are like. Thank you for this article and taking the time to teach your kids about ours. 🙂

    [Reply]

  9. rajean
    Twitter: rajean
    says:

    What a wonderful teaching moment for your children and for any parent, aunt/uncle, teacher, adult who reads this post. If we all took the extra little bit of time that you did in moments like these, we’d have a far more accepting and caring world.

    [Reply]

  10. I love the way you handled this conversation. It isn’t easy to know what to say. I must say that our children are being educated to accept children with disabilities as just another student at school. No questions asked. No stares.

    There’s a boy who looks to be about 9 in my son’s karate class. He is partially deaf, blind, with some physical differences. He has to have his limbs manipulated by an aide to do the karate moves. Sometimes he calls out when he doesn’t want to do a move. He is very articulate. I am totally impressed by the other kids in the class. They all treat him as one of the students. No stares. Just business as usual. Heartwarming.

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  11. My son has Aspergers. Honestly, I chickened out of going to DisneyWorld with all of you because it’s very hard to do things outside the home with him and his brother. Maybe next year. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Sarah
    Twitter: reallifesarah
    Reply:

    Leah, I really hope to meet him someday! And I hope you know that we especially (Mom Blogger Community) will embrace him and you, and be there for you. You’re not alone!

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  12. Fabulous post Sarah!

    My nephew has autism and, as you probably know, my son has his own huge helping of challenges. It is wonderful that you approach your friend’s children with such consideration!

    Having a child with behavioral challenges and several diagnoses is SO difficult and very lonely at times.

    I have come home and cried many many days at the way people treat me and my son. Since my son appears typical, most people assume he is just a bad kid and I am a bad mom. (He is actually a very loving, sweet, compassionate person!) As he gets older and learns to control better it is improving. But still very hard.

    HUGS

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