On a recent vacation, we went to an evening of Caribbean music. They played fun, recognizable songs and the musicians engaged with the audience. A couple walked in with their teenage daughter. At first, I thought she was blind, as she had a tight grip on her dad’s forearm, but realized soon she likely had some form of autism.
While I’m not an expert, I spent twenty years in education working with families, had an aunt work in a school for autism in Chicago and I interacted with the students, and have friends with children with this condition. Autism is a general term and people have a wide range of strengths and difficulties, but may include challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and communication issues.
The dad and daughter took a seat in front of us and the mom sat in the back due to limited seating. At one point the music and crowd became loud and it was too much for the daughter. She went back to the mom and let out a several guttural cries. The dad was very patient, calming, and let the daughter know she was safe and welcome with him or in the back with mom. It was apparent this was not a new interaction between them.
There were a lot of looks and quiet condemnation in the room. After the show, I walked up to the dad, put my hand on his forearm and simply said, “You’re a good dad.” He gave me a hesitant, puzzled look. I simply repeated, “You’re a good dad.” A relieved smile broke out and he responded, “Thank you.”
As I write this, I am thinking about a friend who takes his son on endless train rides because it is what his son wants and needs. You’re a good dad.
Our minor inconveniences and interruptions are sorry excuses for criticism. These families can’t walk away from their obligations and individuals didn’t choose to be autistic. The same goes for parents of young children and families dealing with a broad range of issues. Let’s put our feet in their shoes for a couple minutes and offer words and actions of encouragement. Let’s offer them brief moments of relief.