Between illness and generally being busy I haven’t managed to write much in the last few weeks, which is especially annoying because I had a request to write about a specific topic a couple of weeks back. I like the idea of anyone being able to submit a question for me to cover in a blog so I was keen to respond but have only just had a chance.
I was asked how to explain to a preschooler that another child isn’t being naughty but actually struggling.
It’s a good question and one I’ve been interested to mull over given I’m the parent on the other side. My children are the ones likely to look ‘naughty’ to an outsider (though, Tyger’s masking abilities mean he tends to save that behaviour for when he gets home and other children are probably largely unaware of it) and not the ones who need other children’s behaviour explained.
So, how would I like to have Tyger and Bear’s autism explained to other kids?
I think I’d consider how I’d explain a more ‘normal’ or socially acceptable difficulty or impairment like needing to wear glasses and take my lead from that. Talk of everyone being different and some people having problems with certain things.
When specifically asked about behaviour that appears ‘naughty’, I think it’s important to stress the child can’t help it. You can’t blame a child for noticing they were told off for throwing a pen because the lid wouldn’t fit on the end whilst they were drawing (which, let’s face it, is a legitimate complaint) but some other kid trashed the whole wooden kitchen area and got to go and listen to music afterwards. That seems inherently unfair and kids aren’t stupid; they notice these sorts of apparent injustices.
So, depending on the age and understanding of the child, I’d probably go with something along the lines of:
‘Everyone’s different. You know how some people have brown hair whilst others have blonde or red? And some people are tall, some people have different ways of talking, some people are shy, some people have darker skin than others? All these things just make someone them.
‘Some people also find things hard or their bodies find things hard. There are people who need glasses because without them they can’t see close up things or maybe they can’t see far away things. Glasses help with that. And other people might have problems with their legs or joints or back and have to use a wheelchair to get around.
‘Well, these problems can’t always be seen. Some people have great difficulty concentrating. Some people can’t cope with being around lots of other people. Some people hurt when there’s too much noise.
‘When people have those sorts of difficulties it can be really hard for them and sometimes them struggling looks like them being naughty. But, it’s important to remember they’re not trying to be mean. Sometimes they just can’t keep their feelings in anymore.’
Nothing particularly groundbreaking and I’d adjust it depending on the age of the child but it’s honest and straight forward.
Children are actually much better at accepting our explanations of disability, special needs, race, religion, sexuality and all differences between people than a lot of adults imagine (it’s easier to accept all that than the fact some felt tip pen manufacturers can’t even design the lids of their pens so they stay on the ends of the pens when in use…not that I’ve taken this personally or anything). Kids take their lead from the grown-ups around them. If you are understanding and compassionate, chances are they will be too.