Our daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate and requires frequent visits to the craniofacial center. Every time we’re there I’m humbly reminded how fortunate we are to have an otherwise healthy child. We don’t have to deal with disfigurement or inoperable tumors. A lot of times I just sit in the waiting room praying for the different families that come through.
On one of those visits I had to bring all three of my kids. They where 5 and 6 years old at the time. As we waited to be seen, a mother with her autistic son walked in. We are not totally unfamiliar with autism, living in a community with a few families who have autistic children. Also, living in this community we see the love and care that goes into those kids’ lives. This boy at the hospital, who we found out was named Oscar, was clearly agitated and his mother was totally overwhelmed and helpless as he lashed out. He mumbled and yelled unintelligible words at everybody and started running and hitting other children, unable to express in words what he wanted to communicate, so he takes their toys away.
To no surprise, kids started backing away from Oscar. Not my son. He sat by a little table with a toy in hand, pretty much unfazed by the little tornado clearing out the whole area, while Oscar’s mother’s shouts could be heard in the background.
It didn’t take long until Oscar noticed Connor sitting there and started to come over to push him away from the toy so he could play with it himself. Connor looked at him and explained in his small, quiet voice that he couldn’t take the toy away, but that they could play together with it. Stunned, Oscar stopped a moment to consider that option, not knowing what to do. He then proceeded to yell for a while longer but since Connor didn’t back away, he stopped, sat down, and let this strange kid show him how the toy worked.
To my amazement Oscar totally calmed down! In his own language he would talk to my son, while Connor would answer him and carry on the conversation like it wasn’t anything unusual. Once in a while Oscar would get frustrated and start to get aggressive again, but my son just gently placed a hand on his arm and helped him fix whatever was bothering him when he got stuck.
When we finally got called into the doctor’s office, I called my kids by name. The only time Oscar heard their names. I felt sad as I watched disappointment come over his face as his new friend walked away.
After our appointment I noticed Oscar still playing in the waiting room.
As I finished signing out at the front desk I watched him wave at my son across the room and very quietly say, “Hi, Connor.” Those were the only words Oscar had clearly spoken the entire time we were there. I teared up and was reminded how much difference a little kindness can make. Here was this kid who makes so many others uncomfortable that they run away from him, while all he really wanted was someone to take time for him and understand him.
I have far to go in my own walk, but I’ll never forgot that day, and how important it is to give somebody time to get to know them in both their pain and joys.