We all want to feel happy, connected, and accepted. Sometimes that is found in ways we least expect.
One late winter day my family visited the zoo in Washington, D.C. It was early and we had the underwater viewing area at the sea lion exhibit all to ourselves. My youngest son had on a jacket with contrasting colors and we noticed it seemed to catch the attention of one particularly curious sea lion. I starting recording as the two darted back and forth on opposite sides of the glass, and she followed his every move. When my son realized what was going on he joyfully cried out, “She likes me!”
My son is *Autistic, and social interaction as well as playing with other children is sometimes hard and complicated. Some research has shown that children with Autism and other disabilities are actually 2-3 times more likely to be bullied by their peers. They also often find it easier to relate to animals and can connect with them more easily than with people.
My son was thrilled to find a playmate that day and to feel free to be himself. It came so easily. All the sea lion wanted was to play, and nothing else mattered; not social rules, not appearance. Just fun.
We learned later that the sea lion was named Sophie, and she was famous for interacting with her visitors. She accepted all potential playmates equally, but I would wager that few were as enthusiastic as my youngest son. As their game of follow-the-leader continued, he exclaimed, “THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!”
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to just be about romantic love, it can be a time to reach out and perform an act of kindness to brighten someone’s day. There is even a whole WEEK dedicated to it every year around February 14. For many years I have tried to find someone to reach out to in a positive way around this time. Sometimes it is by lending a helping hand, and other times it is in order to say “Thank you!” to someone who had a positive influence on others. Six years ago I helped classmates contact a former High School teacher, who was also very ill, because we wanted him to know that he had made a difference in the lives of countless students. Turns out it was just in time. Continue reading
Another Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Action month is drawing to a close, and I hope that everyone’s efforts made a difference. This world becomes a better place every time someone new reads about Autism and learns to be more accepting. To close out the month here are this page’s Top Five posts about Autism in the hopes that you might find them helpful. These are the topics that seem to have resonated the most with readers, even years later. I feel honored and overwhelmed that when we share our journey it has the potential to help others.
#5. Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket. Many years ago, when the Ninjas were very small, we were new to the Autism world and spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. A difficult incident happened in a grocery store, but the graciousness and compassion showed to us by the employees there helped us through it. I wrote this piece for the Parents Magazine special needs blog. NOTE: This is a change from the original article that was featured at #5. Because reasons.
#4. The Talk: How I explained my son’s Autism diagnosis to him.
There is no shame in Autism. When my son was old enough I wanted to explain his unique brain to him in a positive way, because how you do it is incredibly important and can affect a child’s self-image for the rest of their life. I wrote: “… I had to be very careful with my words and how I presented Autism. There is still so much stigma in attached to special needs, or even to simply being different (not in my mind, but society seems to feel otherwise). I didn’t want him to see himself as flawed, or view his diagnosis as restrictive, limiting his expectations of what he could achieve in life. I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of Autism would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.” A version of this story also appeared on the website The Mighty. Continue reading
HUNDREDS of cards and letters. That was the response of former students when they learned that a beloved, retired teacher was very ill. And their response was just in time. Click here to read the whole story of how the community rallied around a great man in the days before his death. They sent “Letters to Mr. Goss,” and it all began in honor of Random Acts of Kindness week.
This year Random Acts of Kindness week is February 9-15. Let’s get started today! If you need some help getting inspired here are some suggestions on how to get the kindness flowing. The world is in desperate need of more kindness. What can YOU do to help make the world a better place? Do something unexpected for a stranger? Make amends for a past wrongdoing? Seek out someone who made a difference in your life and finally tell them THANK YOU? It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, it just has to be kind. Whatever it is, go DO IT! And then come back and tell us about it! Go out there and spread some kindness!
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Many years ago, back in our preschool days, my family had the pleasure of visiting the Crossville Model Railroad Club in Crossville, TN. It was an incredible experience, not only because of the intricate train displays, but also because of the overwhelming kindness we encountered during our visit.
We were traveling to Nashville and had heard about this impressive train display that was en route. We knew we had to see it since there were TWO little train fanatics in our house (ages 3 and 4.5). Our home was basically all trains, all the time, so this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. The Model Railroad Club rents space in an outlet mall and has a whole storefront FULL of different size model train layouts. The only problem was that we would be driving through on a THURSDAY afternoon, a time when they used to not be open. I contacted a club member named Mike Braunstein via e-mail about a week ahead of time and inquired about setting up a private train viewing, as indicated on their website. He responded very kindly that they did not generally do private viewings for anyone but groups. He continued on to say that they usually had some folks working on the displays almost every day, and “if you care to stop and see if anyone is there I am sure they would be more than glad to show your family around. Depending on which display group is working they can probably run a few trains.”
*SIGH*. “Stopping by” and risking letting my kids see a train utopia through locked doors without actually being allowed to go inside was NOT an option. My youngest has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and at the time my oldest was struggling with anxiety and social phobias, and putting them in a potentially disappointing situation like that was just asking for a meltdown. I have long held the philosophy, “Ask for what you need,” and find that some people are quite often willing to make accommodations to help us if I give them a simple explanation of my family’s situation. I do not EXPECT people to accommodate us, I only do this if I think it will not be a burden, but figure it can’t hurt to ask. After a LOT of careful thinking I emailed the following reply: