Monday, April 1, 2019

Kids in a park were nice to a child with autism—but do they deserve to be called superheroes?

The scene: a five-year-old boy with autism is at a skate park with his mom, riding a scooter. They are there to celebrate his birthday. His behavioral therapist has come along to encourage him to be social. This boy doesn't like crowds, so when a group of pre-teens descends upon the park it's uncertain how things will go. But the older kids welcome him. One shows him how to ride a skateboard. They sing "Happy Birthday" to him. The mom buys them all ice-cream and posts about it on a local Facebook group, sharing these two videos.   

The child, Carter, has an amazing reaction to what happened per his mom, Kristen Braconi. "They made him feel so special," she tells the local Patch. "He has watched the videos for two days in a row.... Kindness is something that is hard to teach, you know? So when you see anyone doing it, it needs to be recognized.... After they included him, his whole demeanor changed. He seems more confident now and i think comfortable to be at the park. Hopefully he will feel like he can be more social."

The neighborhood police tweet the videos, saying they wanted to identify the kids at the playground. "These kids are local superheroes," the Deputy Police Chief the Deputy Police Chief says. "They didn't have their parents around. They didn't have their teachers around. They were just nice on your own. It's the kind of video that restores your faith in humanity." Local TV stations also report on the teens' kindness and superhero ways.


It's awesome how happy this boy was about what happened.

It's awesome how these skateboarders behaved. I'd like to think they would have behaved similarly for any five-year-old they came upon at the playground. It's unclear if they even knew he had autism.

I am quite positive the police or the media wouldn't have responded the way they did if it was a five-year-old who was developing typically. This week, the police are rewarding the skateboarders with a pizza party, reports

It's the hoopla that gives me pause.

The truth is, if children with disabilities lived in a world that was truly inclusive and welcoming, kids including them at skate parks or playgrounds or birthday parties or basically anywhere wouldn't be worthy of headlines or pizza parties from the police or moms buying them ice-cream and gushing about it on social media. It wouldn't be an act of extraordinary kindness—it would be an ordinary, everyday thing.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of reading this story and collectively going "awwww," people in Carter's community could consider how they can teach their children to include those with autism and other disabilities. But I doubt that's what happens when these acts of kindness hit the news. In fact, I worry that the very fact they become a big deal creates the opposite intention of what Carter's mom wants and what many moms of children with disabilities want: for our children to regularly be treated with the same respect as any children.

Instead, children behaving nicely are considered superheroes, all for interacting with a child who has autism. This says everything about who these kids are—good kids, to be sure, raised the right way—but it also says everything about how people in this world view autism. Reading between the lines: poor, unfortunate kids who have autism, isn't it just incredible when people are nice to them? The fact that children and moms are overwhelmingly grateful for gestures like this tells you how tough it is out there for our kids. Isolation and exclusion are so common that even a little outreach can feel major. These kids may be setting an example by being friendly—but then, being inclusive isn't a one-time effort. 

When the day comes that parents, the public and the media don't think twice about a group of kids befriending a little boy in the park who happens to have autism, that will be the best news of all.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I get what you're saying, I truly do. It made me reflect on a recent experience in my life. My 8yo son went to a local store that organizes gaming tournaments (he plays Magic) to play in one of their tournaments. He was the youngest kid there, and the least skilled player, but the older kids made him feel so included and special, even giving him some of their cards. He was glowing. I felt so thankful to the store and other players that I posted a thank you on FB on Saturday, tagging the store, saying "everyone is welcome to play at..." Which all would read a lot differently if my son had special needs (he's typically developing). But your post gave me pause: has the world really become so unfriendly and unkind that we all feel it's notable if someone goes out of their way to be kind?!? I think, maybe so...

    1. Yes, tweeting about a kindness hat made you feel welcome and happy is a celebration and its a celebration even if such acts of kindness are common (and sometimes they are). It isn't making the children superheroes, just acknowledging kindness. Where I saw the error in the story reported in the blog post is the police retweeting it as finding these children and treating them like superheroes. And, in aggrandizing the kindness because they were kind to a child with autism, rather than just a child younger than them, to whom they can offer support and knowledge.

  3. I do agree that often these stories are blown out of porportion. I think though we also need to recognize that it might take a lot more for other children to include a child with disabilities. Plenty of kids with autism are just socially awkward and do great with older kids. Other children can be very agressive, destructive, or extremely loud which are typically not behaviors preteens or teens have any clue how to handle. I've been there and been expected to know what to do because I was a "good kid" with a disability so it was presumed I automatically would know what to do with other disabled kids. I don't think it's entirely fair for parents to demand their children be treated like any other child. Kids with disabilities aren't just like any other child and saying they are is a false narrative built from shame of the disability and fear of discrimination. Kids with disabilities generally have the same wants and needs as any other kids and they should 100% be included but what it takes to include them can be much more involved and difficult than for a typically developing child. What I needed to be included as a kid wasn't what a child without disabilities needs. Treating me just like any other kid was not helpful at all. Children don't "happen" to have a disability. It's often a core part of who they are and it does shape their lives and how their needs are met. Disability is a part of life, it's not shameful, and I think the sentiment that we need to make it seem like disabled kids are no different will actually harm people with disabilities in the long run. Did those kids need to be called superheros? The word choice could have been better. But maybe the story will give other teens and preteens confidence to try and include others even when they aren't sure exactly what to do or are nervous. This is what we want to see in the world right? Then we need to praise the behaviors we want to see, we need to make those acts "cool". I think that's what the police were trying to do here.

    1. This is a very wise comment, thank you for having articulated this so eloquently. Typically developing children might not "naturally" be successful when interacting with a child with complex needs, especially with autistic traits. It is not enough for parents to teach their children to celebrate diversity. Neurological diversity can be so difficult to handle, as we parents know so well. We cannot assume that our children will be treated like any other child. They are not like any other child, they require knowledge, patience, and, yes, some level of generosity and selfness that cannot be expected from most kids. BTW: how many of us hang out with friends whom we treat as any other friend but who happen to be intellectually disabled adults?

  4. You know why the news cycle did that.

    It's Autism Acceptance Month.

    And a few years ago [2012 - I had thought it was 2015], I read about a five-year-old called Oscar who went to his skate park. It consisted of the boys next door building their own skate park and including him in their adventures - and basketball too.

    Ocar's skate park experience by Kim Berry of AllConsuming fame

  5. Ellen I have been reading your blog for years and appreciate your insight as a parent with a child a child with CP. I appreciate you're dedication. On the other hand this post screams "Look at me I am special" you post so,me great stuffb 80% of time you post great stuff! These posts are just not up to par


Thanks for sharing!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...