This weekend we had company. My Brother, his 7-year-old son, and his 20-month-old and 8-month old daughters all came to spend the weekend with us. Lots of fun, lots of food, lots of noise, and a LOT of commotion.
Just like a family visit should be.
We thought David was going to have issues with all of the movement, and at times he did – but overall, he just enjoyed having people here. See, David might not express love the same way others do; he might not even visibly acknowledge your presence sometimes – but when you’re his people, he wants you here.
Like all the time.
Uncle Tom, “the babies”, and Rylan are 4 of “David’s people”. David and Rylan haven’t seen each other in just over a year, and the last time they saw each other they interacted well – but not in great depth. So this weekend was going to be interesting, not knowing how they’d interact. Rylan didn’t know before this weekend that his cousin is autistic; he just knew David didn’t talk much.
I decided to just observe their interactions, and see how organically they took to each other. At first, it was kind of “at arms length” as Rylan explored “Uncle Bear’s house” and David got used to someone being in his space, dragging out his toys, and taking over his room.
So far, so good.
At one point, David’s cousin tried engaging, and David was in the middle of a stim; Rylan asked him a question and then immediately said, “oh that’s right, you don’t talk to me.” And he just went about his business. I just kind of watched, and then at one point I heard Rylan innocently mock David’s impediment after he’d asked Mama something. It wasn’t malicious, he wasn’t trying to make David feel bad, he just mimicked what he’d heard.
I started to realize that Rylan didn’t really understand how David sees the world.
I asked my brother if he would be alright sitting down with me and talking with Rylan about autism, and David, and compassion. My brother let me know that he would very much appreciate that, as he’d been struggling for some time with how to properly enlighten his son.
So we sat down with Rylan at the table, and I let him know I wanted to talk to him about David. I asked him if he’d ever heard the word “autism” or if he knew any autistic people. He said no.
I explained to him that David, and many others like him, use a different way of communicating – and sometimes that way doesn’t involve words. “David might not always act like he even sees you”, I said. “But while David doesn’t use many words, trust me. He knows your there, and he’s happy you’re here.”
I explained to Rylan that a lot of people are different, and that being different doesn’t make them less important than anyone else. I told him that the most important thing to remember is that David is a person, just like him, no matter how different he seems, and that all people deserve kindness and to not ever be made fun of or mocked.
I was kind of expecting Rylan to ask pointed questions, “why does David do this”, and “why does he do that”, I was expecting him to get confrontational or even dismissive; after all, I just lovingly told him he was doing something wrong.
Instead, Rylan looked at me, and he looked at David, and then he looked back at me and said, “okay. Can I have some apple juice?”
He just sat and listened to me explain (parts of) autism, and that David is autistic, and that he deserves to be treated the same way as anyone else. Then, without blinking an eye, he accepted David, and that David is not broken – just different, and then he went back to playing Minecraft… and didn’t bat an eye at David flopping on the couch next to him, gleefully resting his head on Rylan’s shoulder.
He just accepted David for who he is, and went on being his cousin.
I wish our whole world was able to understand and accept people’s differences with the same readiness as my nephew.