Explaining Difference to Children: When difference feels scary

Last night was just a simple night at home with my boys. But, as I have learned along the spectrum; many things are so much more than they first seem. It started as a simple night; and it became a night about so much more. Last night I sat down to give my children a bath and I ended up having an important conversation with them about difference.

Earlier in the day Grayson became worked up at the sight of a large spider web in the backyard. Grayson has seen spiders and spider webs before. When you live a mile from a lake you become rather comfortable with the sight of creepy crawlies around your house. In the past the sight of spiders never mattered much to him, but in that instant he was overcome with fear. He grew very emotional; inconsolable. He was scared and sad and he just wanted a break. After a while he calmed down and he moved on from the incident.

Since I was not home during the incident I took bath time as an opportunity to talk to him. I asked Grayson if he saw a spider web outside. He told me “spiders are scary.” I paused for a moment trying to determine my next move. Conversations like this are pretty new, and rare, given his speech delay. I opened my mouth unsure of where the conversation would lead.

I told him that I completely understood that he felt afraid. I told him that mommy feels scared sometimes too. I explained to him that spiders are not really scary, they are just different. And, sometimes, we are scared of things that are different.

I could tell by the look on his face that he was not sold on the concept. So I continued. I explained to Grayson that spiders are different from us in lots of ways. Spiders have 8 legs and we only have 2 legs. Spiders live in webs and we live in houses. Spiders are small and we are big. I told him that spiders are really cool and not very scary at all.

He remained deep in thought for a few minutes. Next to him in the bathtub his little brother twirled around an said “spiders is not scary.” “That’s right!” I exclaimed. “Spiders are not scary, they are different.” Grayson smiled and said “Spiders have 8 legs.”

I am not sure if the concept hit home. The next time Grayson sees a spider he may still run away in fear. He may still cry. He may still feel afraid. The important thing is that I saw an opportunity to talk to my kids in a real way about difference; and I took it.

When my son was first diagnosed with autism, it scared the daylights out of me. I knew very little about autism. And, I knew even less about raising a child with autism. My lack of knowledge and understanding was scary. Today, armed with knowledge and a deeper understanding, autism seems much less scary.

It is never easy to talk about things that scare us. Some things may scare us because they are truly scary. Other things may scare us because we just do not understand them. I want to raise both of my boys to understand that fear is a normal part of life. And, I never want them to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their fears.  But, I also want to raise them to understand their ability to take a deeper look at the things that scare them. I want them to understand the important distinction between scary and different.

My sons autism felt scary; because it was different. He is different. And embracing him, and embracing all of the wonderful difference that he is, helped me to understand that difference is not always scary. The journey is scary because it is unknown. So each day we are trying to know it a little more.

Let’s talk about difference in a real way. Let’s make difference even just a little less scary!

p.s. spiders totally creep me out too!


2 thoughts on “Explaining Difference to Children: When difference feels scary

  1. Pam Bartholomew says:

    I will offer up prayers for you and your family to show love and patience to everyone. The help we need comes from above whether it be for your family or friends. We can’t always fix things ourselves without help from God.


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