An Apple store employee in the Nashville, TN area gets big kudos for his compassion in dealing with a child with autism and downs syndrome. The 9 year old child was in the store with his mother to get an iPad. He accidentally ran into a door and fell to the ground. The employee sat down on the ground with the child and helped him set up the tablet. He met the child where he was. 1
We can all take cues from this employee. He met the child where he was. As noted by the child’s mother in the story, the employee could have waited until they stood up or told them they needed to come back later, but he did not. He did not degrade the child. He did not make him feel less important. The employee treated him with respect and kindness.
A similar situation occurred in December. A mall Santa in Charlotte, NC got down on the floor with a 6 year old autistic child. The child’s family said the gesture by the Santa instantly made the child feel at ease.2 Also, a barber in England met a child with autism where he was and made him feel at ease to cut his hair.3
It is hard enough growing up without physical or mental disabilities. Remember how awkward junior high school was (yes, it was junior high school when I went to school, it is now middle school). Children with disabilities have an extremely difficult time growing up. Other kids make fun of them, adults do not always treat them with respect or kindness, and learning to cope with their disabilities can be difficult. But, with the right compassion, consideration and caring, these kids can flourish.
I will never forget a case where I represented a nine-year old girl for an SSI claim. We went to the hearing. She seemed to open up to me quickly before the hearing. She was a sweet child. It hurt me to hear how she was sad from getting bullied in school. The evaluation process for an SSI case includes a determination that the child has difficulty in school with using and acquiring information. This child also had a learning disability. I asked her some math questions in the hearing. She seemed calm and willing to answer the questions. She did not seem upset or hurt from the questions. The judge interrupted by questioning saying I did not need to put her through this. I explained I was merely advocating for her. When we walked out of the hearing, she said to me, “that judge was really mean to you, wasn’t he?” I told her it was okay, I was there to help her.
Knowing if a child has a disability can be difficult. This is especially true with kids with autism. There is such a broad range of autism spectrum. Kids may be very high functioning with autism. It may be hard to spot at first that they have autism and have special needs. Awareness is key. The quote from the Apple employee story sums it up:
“And I walked away from this experience with the reminder to always meet people where they are at. It’s so easy to be so focused on our own mission or plan (or sale) that we fail to see what people really need. I long to be better at this. I long to not be so self-absorbed that I never miss an opportunity to love exactly like someone needs in the moment.”
Unfortunately, I have been in IEP meetings where school personnel have either accused a child of using their disabilities to get out of class or simply stated “all kids do that”. Children are children and can manipulate to get what they want; discounting a child’s disability or medical condition only makes them feel isolated. “No one understands what I am going through”.
We all need to learn to meet children with disabilities where they are but not to make them feel less important in the process.