Do you ever sit and watch other people’s children when playing, and think to yourself, “ugh, there’s always one kid who has to spoil it for the others?” I did. I’d always tut at the child who was climbing up the slide, or I’d roll my eyes at the one who knocks down the beautiful, tall tower that another child has painstakingly built over a period of time. I would inwardly seethe if a child disrespected the rules of a game that the children had come up with by themselves and I would sigh, and wonder what kind of upbringing the child who pushes in and doesn’t wait his turn, was having. “What are his parents teaching him?!”
And then, there was Tink. And now notice my use of the past tense: “I did“. Now, I have so much more tolerance for those children. I am willing to accept their behaviour may not be all it first seems and I am able to understand that there is often more to the picture. Because my kid is that kid.
Tink is pretty solitary. She’s quite happy to play alone, or, in a group situation such as Preschool, alongside her peers, but she rarely properly interacts. She can’t. She doesn’t know how. She lacks that social awareness and development. So, my heart sings when I see her trying to play with other children. However, I also get a knot in the pit of my stomach, as I wonder how long it will take before it all goes pear-shaped. How long before she takes one look at that several-piece jigsaw you have just spent ages putting together correctly, and you are so proud of yourself, and she decides she doesn’t like it all put-together, but prefers it in pieces again? How long before she notices that lovely small-world play set you have set up just-so, with all the cars along the road, and the people arranged nicely in the dolls’ house, and the animals standing in the pens on the farm, and she thinks to herself that it looks too neat, too perfect and it would be much better for her if they were all thrown around? How long before she spots that amazing sand castle the little kid has been building for several minutes, and she stamps on it and kicks the bucket away? (That last one I actually witnessed just this week. She did it a few times. We beat a hasty retreat just after hearing “I’m going to tell my mom of you!”. I wasn’t ready for that confrontation.)
I want Tink to have all the experiences a typically-developing child would have, especially when it’s something she loves, such as a massive sand pit. But I dread it. I know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to end and I dread it. She doesn’t understand. We can’t explain it to her. She hasn’t learnt about social niceties yet, despite having lots of input around the subject over the last couple of years. It just doesn’t compute. And I can’t blame the other kids – they don’t understand either. They don’t know what ‘autism’ is and how it can affect a person’s abilities to behave in a socially acceptable manner. All they see is a child behaving badly and that it has had an impact on their own play, and that’s not right. And if they do go and tell their parent, what happens then? How do I handle that one? I don’t want to use Tink’s condition as an excuse, although at the moment, it is a perfectly valid reason for her behaviour. I certainly don’t want to go around announcing that she has a condition. It’s no-one else’s bloody business. I just have to hope that the parent in question isn’t like the old me – the one who tutted, and sighed, and eye-rolled, and that they’re more like the new me – the one who may just stop and think for a minute that there may be more than meets the eye.