As a parent raising a son on the autism spectrum my head is filled with worry.
I worry that children will not understand him. That they will not understand the way he communicates. I worry that they will not take time to learn to talk to him. And, to hear him. I worry that he will be left out and left behind. I worry that people will assume that different means less. I worry that they will never know that he is so much more.
Those thoughts and worries are the soundtrack of my darkest thoughts. And it is easy to fall like quicksand into fear like that.
Luckily there is just enough hope and faith in my heart to pull me back. To keep my head above the sand. Hope that the world will be a kind and tolerant place for my son. Faith that the people in our life will welcome him with the kindness and patience and love that he so deserves.
We talk a lot about kindness in our house. I praise my children for being kind. I explain how they could have been kinder in a particular situation. I teach them that kindness is a choice. That kindness will not always be the easiest choice, but it will always be the best choice.
Somehow all of the talk about kindness give me hope that the world will be kind to my children. And I need that hope.
But I am never sure just how much my son retains. I search his face for a sign of acknowledgment or recognition. I wonder if he understands my words. If he understands how important they are. But I never really know.
But now I know. Now I understand exactly what my son is learning about kindness. Because this weekend he showed me. He showed me that he learned a lesson about kindness that I had forgotten to teach him.
This weekend at the pool my son found a group of older kids. My husband and I watched on from close by. My son saw the kids counting down and jumping in and he wanted to join in on the fun. He joined in counting along with the children and then jumped in after them.
After a few jumps the other kids became more aware of him. They exchanged comments and glances. They climbed back onto the ledge and began to count again. This time at the end of countdown they only pretended to jump. And as they pretended they all turned their heads to look at my son. But, he had not fallen for their prank. You see, my son is a mimicker. So he patiently waited to jump after the other kids. His excitement mounted and soon he was shrieking and jumping in joy. They tried a few more times to fake him out before jumping in. And just like each time before, my son followed suit.
Once in the water it was harder to see exactly what was happening. I stood up to get a better look as my husband moved in closer to the action. All at once a lot of splashing and noise erupted.
My son swam to the edge and climbed out. He looked upset. He walked with purpose towards the shallow end. I quickly began walking to meet him, sure that he was heading towards me. But instead he walked over to the lifeguard and said, without hesitation, “Those boys are not following the rules. Those boys are not being kind.”
My heart was torn between sadness and joy. Sadness for his struggle and his encounter with unkind children, but overjoyed by the way he handled himself.
He explained that the boys splashed water in his face while laughing and yelling at him. My husband later told me that the boys were mocking his shrieking noises and gestures. The twisted irony that the exchange started with my son mimicking their fun and play and ended with these boys mimicking his speech and behavior is not lost on me. And while it makes me sad and angry, I know that Grayson did not understand that they were making fun of him. And I am truly thankful for that.
My sweet precious boy only knew that the boys were unkind to him, but he did not understand why. And he knew that it was not ok for them to be unkind.
I realized that day that somewhere in our lessons about my son needing to give and show kindness to others, he learned that others needed to show him kindness too.
I never said it to him that clearly. I should have. I should have told him that he deserved kindness from others. I was so worried about raising good and kind children that I forgot to tell them about all of the kindness and love that they deserve. I should have taught that lesson and I did not. But my smart, sweet boy learned those lessons anyway.
We taught him about showing kindness to others, and he determined that others should treat him kindly too. We told him that others would not want to play with him if he was unkind, so he walked away from kids who were unkind to him.
I will continue to teach him about giving kindness to others. And, I will start to remind him about the kindness he deserves.
Kindness is a choice. And it is powerful. It can be the difference between being included and being left out. Between happiness and sadness. Between joy and pain. It can create great connections or without it cause great divides.
Choose kind. Choose to bring joy and happiness to others. Choose not to perpetuate sadness and pain. Choose to do and say things that build connections. Because there is enough in the world that will try to divide us.
Choose kind. Every single day. And remember that you deserve kind. Every single day.