Friday, April 16, 2021

Children and teens with disabilities, re-entry and the extra empathy they'll need

via Better To Be Different/Facebook

An awesome story is making the cyber rounds about a man in England who, upon encountering a 5-year-old with autism having a tantrum, proceeded to lie down on the pavement next to him, strike up a conversation and help him calm down. Mom Natalie Fernando told the story in a Facebook post that has gone viral

You might recall a similar story from a couple of years ago in which a Universal Orlando Resort employee did the same when an autistic child who lost it while waiting for a ride. And then there was that great story about officers calming an upset autistic man in the ER of a Chicago hospital by singing to him.

The rest of the world may see these people as saints, but to many parents of children with disabilities, they are both heroes and the exception. Natalie recounted that before the help from a stranger, "only minutes before Rudy and I were being tutted at stared at frowned at by a woman and a man with 2-yr-old in a pram trying to sleep despite me apologizing for my son's loud noises." 

How many times have we read those stories—people getting in a snit because a person with disabilities was causing a so-called "disturbance." The family kicked out of a restaurant owing to their four-year-old with apraxia whose speech was unclear. Patrons at a restaurant who moved away from a child with Down syndrome (and that waiter who stood up for him). If you're the parent of a child with special needs, you have likely contended with the disgust, discrimination and intolerance in some form or another. 

In the upcoming months, we are going to enter an unprecedented time in this world: re-entry. As a growing number of people are fully vaccinated, families will increasingly be leaving the safety of their homes and venturing out again to stores, restaurants and other public places. Children are returning to school. This is going to be especially challenging for many kids and teens with special needs for whom a change in routine is unsettling and distressing. It can be hard on those with sensory needs who aren't comfortable wearing masks. It might be upsetting or even scary for children to see a new world in which the majority of people are masked, lines may be longer and some of their favorite restaurants closed due to financial challenges from the pandemic. They may also harbor fears about the coronavirus.

April may be Autism Acceptance Month but for the indefinite future, we are going to need people to have more patience, empathy, understanding. consideration and kindness than ever. Nobody's expecting everyone to lie down on the floor but, at the very least, to not tsk-tsk at children who are having meltdowns or glare at their parents or caregivers. 

As Natalie wrote on her Facebook page, "If you see a parent struggling, maybe take the time to say 'Are you OK?', don't judge the parenting, try not to judge the child, just be kind.... Sometimes it just takes a moment of kindness from a complete stranger to completely change your day."

Choose kindness, people. Or at the very least, choose to stay silent.


  1. This was a lovely story. I had to look up the original post on Facebook so I could like it. :)

    I am familiar with the Universal story. Our CEO shared it once at a meeting we had with staff as an exemplary example of empathy-led customer service.

    I wish more people would take these individuals’ approach and as you noted, not everyone is like this. I can definitely relate to and recall the judgmental looks you get from strangers when my little one had his long meltdowns in public.

    The world can benefit more from the kindness first approach - especially as we make the long transition back to normalcy!

  2. Great post! As excited as I am for life to return to 'normal,' I'm realizing that we are so out of practice with the situations that can be so triggering - crowds, restaurants, waiting in lines, and SCHOOL. There will definitely be a relearning curve!


Thanks for sharing!

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