This is the question I was asked by a dear friend today as we were working out. I was actually so thankful for the question because one, it forced me to confront a realization I knew would someday surface, and two, it has now better prepared me for those types of questions in the future. Let me preface this question with the situation that actually spurred this inquiry:
About one week ago, the girls and I went to visit this friend and her kids. She has a daughter a bit younger than Cali (we will call her K) and a son (B), about the age of Ava. Cali was cranky going into the visit, but I thought once we saw the toys and outside play yard, the crankiness would fade. Unfortunately it didn’t, so while K was trying so very hard to get Cali to play, her efforts were all in vain. About thirty minutes into the play, K was arguing with her brother B. B started to cry and Cali did not like this one bit. Your probably thinking she didn’t like B’s crying, that it must have been overstimulating, but actually it is the complete opposite. She was feeling so sorry for B, that she proceded to tell K, “don’t do that!” Little miss protective over here. I don’t know what it is about Cali, but she seems to have this innate sense to show empathy for others. Quite an extraordinary thing, for such a young little toddler. Although, it was so very sweet of her to stick up for B, she definitely wasn’t scoring any brownie points with K. In fact this was strike two for Cali in K’s book. First strike: not wanting to play. Second strike: being mean. I don’t blame her. Those would be strikes in my book too:) Our visit soon after came to a close, and we were off to finish our nightly routine at home.
After we had left, K asked her mom, “why is Cali so mean?” and “why does she not want to play with me?” Which by the way are questions coming from a three and a half year. Precocious?? I think so!!
You now can understand where the question, “how do I tell my daughter about Cali?”, was stemming from. I would be lying if I said I responded with no extra thoughts, but the truth is I had one of those small lumps creeping up my throat and quickly thought how I needed to push that annoying thing down! I then responded with something like this…
I for one, am all for the autism label if the label is used to help others understand and know how to help Cali. With that said, I believe only those who are capable of understanding should be informed. Kids, in my opinion, do not have the capacity to understand a label like autism. And let’s be honest, how many times do even some adults not understand…sad truth. I would much rather prefer Cali’s friends to figure out who she is because of their interactions with her and not because they have been told she has autism. I have to give my friend kuddos here. She didn’t have time to ask me “how do I tell my daughter about Cali?” before answering K’s questions. We all know you can’t just brush off a toddler’s questions, that is unless you want to hear those questions asked over and over, a bazillion times!!:) So, here is how she went about answering K’s questions. She told her that Cali was probably tired and was a little off. She then told her to think back to times she has been tired and becomes a little cranky. As far as not wanting to play, she told her that sometimes friends are still learning new things and just need a little more time and help. Yay for my friend!!! Perfect answers in my opinion. And do you know what I loved best about what she told K? Was when she told K to think back on times she has felt what Cali was feeling. Perfection!! How much better do we come to know and understand a person when we can step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes.
There is no doubt Cali will have some friends who find out she has autism, but if at all possible I hope they learn of it from Cali. I think when the time comes, she will be the best person to explain to them and be able to let them know that while autism is a part of her, it very well does not define her. Hope this is of some help to those of you who may have similar scenarios in the future. Or for those of you who may have to ask that same question yourself.