May 20, 2014

A Story from the Father of an Autistic Child. ~ Michael Bairdsmith

That Kid- Brothers

Picture this:

It’s a beautiful spring day, and you take your kids to the library after Saturday morning breakfast for a nice, wholesome puppet show.

It’s “Hansel and Gretel” and it’s awesome. The performer really knows how to work the crowd, and all the kids are screaming with laughter. The parents are, too! You’re even tearing up a bit because it’s such a happy sight. It’s rare to get to witness such pure, simple childish delight.

And then, just as the witch is cackling and scheming, some four-year-old in the front walks up and chucks a paperback book at her. Great, it’s that kid. The kid that ruins it for everyone else.

You know it’s not his fault, it’s his idiot parents. And where are they? Ah, there’s the dad! He’s motioning for his recalcitrant kid to come to the back of the room and sit in a chair. That dad has been standing back there the whole time, fighting to hold onto that kid’s struggling younger brother, future that kid.

Why did that dad bring these two boys by himself? Where is their mother? He’s probably not married anymore. I guess crappy dad was also a crappy husband. Huge shock. Fortunately they’ve taken off out the back door, in full tantrum mode, of course. Good riddance.

Meanwhile, your children are sitting quietly, peacefully trying to enjoy the show with all the other kids. There was nothing magical you did to get your own children to behave the way they’re supposed to. You set limits and were consistent. It was that simple.

How do parents like that manage to suck so badly? Why the hell are people like that even allowed to become parents?

Well, as the “crappy dad” at today’s puppet show, allow me to enlighten the fine, reproachful folks in the audience as to how this works.

Not all kids develop in the same way. Some children have trouble understanding instructions, controlling their emotions, or even just sitting quietly with other kids.

My four-year-old son Liam was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder last year, but he’s been making great progress in his special education class. He’s been sitting during circle time, following simple directions and participating with the other kids, so I decided to take a chance on today’s puppet show.

He started out great. He sat crisscross applesauce and laughed along with the other kids through the first half of the show. He had to look back and check that I was still there from time to time, but he was holding it together and behaving well, up to a point. I guess the witch was a bit too much for him. He moved quicker than I could and took the witch down with a gentle toss of Scholastic’s Dinosaurs: A to Z. We got out of there as fast as we could and probably won’t go back for a while.

I think he deserves another try though, maybe in the fall.

What he doesn’t deserve is poisonous dagger glances and pernicious scoffing from parents who don’t understand his difficulties.

As for parents like me, I’m not sure we deserve the hate-faces either.

We just want our kids to have the same fun as all the other kids. We would love nothing more than to sit smugly next to our own perfectly well-behaved children. Instead we’re dragging our kids out of the room, crying and screaming, heartbroken that they don’t get to participate in the stuff they love, not understanding the injustice. The scene we stir up is the part “perfect” parents see with their rolling eyes.

What they don’t see is the conversation we have with our kids later at the park, looking into their tear-filled eyes, and assuring them that there is nothing wrong with them. That they are brilliant, beautiful and loved beyond measure.

And another thing (rolling up my sleeves and kicking over my soap box), where were those kids when mine was coming to the rescue of Hansel and Gretel? They were just sitting there laughing, while that witch was about to eat them. She was going to eat them!

My kid was the only one that did anything.

Mine was the only one with the stones to take action! Where were those kids? The cowards!

(Drops the mic, slams the door and peels off down the road.)


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Apprentice Editor: Chrissy Tustison/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Courtesy of the author


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Michael Bairdsmith