Embracing Autistic Friends: A Teachable Moment at Disney World

Autism affects 1 in 110 children, 1 in 70 boys.*  Chances are that your children know at least one friend with autism, and you know another parent with an autistic child.

While we were at Disney World last week, we shared a lunch table with a lovely mom and daughter, since the place was pretty crowded. The little girl was about 6.  She was very talkative, and friendly, and it soon became evident to me that she was autistic.  I have several friends with children on the Autism spectrum, so I’ve tried to learn the behaviors they might have and how to respond.  I also want to be a help to my friends, and be able to try to understand what they are Embrace differencesgoing through, although I never can, fully.  The sweet little girl repeated phrases over and over, and continually asked where their daddy was.  (He was getting the food).   When her mom asked her if she wanted mayonnaise with her fries, she warned several times, “Do NOT get mayonnaise in your eye!”  Her mom told us she was remembering the day before, when she in fact did get mayonnaise in her eye!

I began to see my children looking at me to see how I responded to the little girl and her mother. They knew there was something unique about the girl, and I knew it was important that my daughters see me treating her with care and respect.  So I guided the conversation and asked my daughters, as well as our new little friend, questions to facilitate them communicating with each other.

After lunch, my kids asked about her, and we talked about how all people are different.  The girl’s mom had shared during our conversation that she did in fact have autism, so I shared a little about what it is.  I tried to convey to my kids that children with autism think differently than we do, but that’s what makes them special and precious.  They are just as smart, sometimes even more so, but communicate differently, and that’s OK.  I think it is so important not to avoid these “elephant in the room” issues and to teach our kids how to relate to friends who may be a little different from them.

Would you like to meet some of my friends with autistic children? Here are some great links to check out, and awesome moms!

  • In “Letting Go of Perfect,” Nanette talks about her feelings when her child was first diagnosed.
  • Sunday Stilwell ( a friend of a friend) gives “10 Things Autism Has Taught Me About Life”.  It’s a great read, especially if you’re wondering how to understand autism a little better.