November 13 is World Kindness Day #WorldKindnessDay
By Debra Muzikar
As a parent of an adult autist, I’ve had a couple of decades of kind and unkind experiences surrounding my son’s autism. When Kevin was a child he used to elope (run away). One of the kindest actions was when an airline pilot ran after him in a busy Washington D.C. airport and walked him back to me. He then offered to watch Kevin while I made a much-needed bathroom trip. I was so grateful for that simple action that day. Our family has been blessed to have been surrounded by kind and supportive people who have helped us over the years.
Here are some suggestions about bringing more kindness into the lives of autistic people, their families, and those who support them:
- If an autistic child is not conforming to typical patterns of behavior, don’t judge the parent or the child. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experience rude strangers tell me mean things when Kevin had a meltdown in public. If the child is having a meltdown follow the parent’s lead (unless the parent is being abusive). Please don’t stare and don’t invade the family’s privacy by videotaping the meltdown on your phone and putting it on social media! Most parents know their child becomes overwhelmed at times and has meltdowns at inopportune moments. If in a grocery store, offer to help the parent with getting their groceries to their car.
- Parents be kind to your children. Don’t compare your child to neurotypical children. All children have their own time table and developmental progression. Forcing your child to be something they are not is an unkind action. Don’t post videotapes of your child at their worst behavior on social media.
- Be kind to yourself. As a parent, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Take time away from parenting to do nice things for yourself. Get a massage or pedicure.
- Invite autistic children to play dates and birthday parties, especially if they are included in a regular classroom. Kevin would come home in tears when he found out a classmate had a party and didn’t invite him. Just because someone is shy or has trouble socializing (or non-speaking) doesn’t mean they are unaware.
- Ask the family if they need help. Sometimes a family will need help with the siblings because the autistic child requires more attention. If the sibling participates in a sport or activity, ask the parent if you can help by taking them to their practice.
- Teach your autistic child about kindness. Get them involved in volunteering. Find something they like to do with the volunteering activity. Kevin loved to pick up trash on the beach on “Clean-up Day.” Judy Endow has some great suggestions for teaching your child kindness here.
- Be kind to your child’s teacher and aide. The aides especially are often dumped on in school districts. Remember their birthdays. Be kind when making suggestions. Besides the parent, the paraprofessional who works with your child is often the closest person to your child outside the family. Treat them with respect.
- Remember you’re modelling behavior for your child. So be kind when stuck in traffic, in line at grocery stores, and don’t make rude comments. Your child is watching you even if you think they’re not noticing.
These are just a few suggestions. I’m sure others can add to this list. We all need more kindness and empathy in this world.
Teachers can help children be more kind by teaching kindness. Here is a curriculum for K-8 grade students.
Debra Muzikar is co-founder of The Art of Autism