Autism is NOT Contagious…

It is a beautiful sunny warm Spring day. PanKwake and I are taking her carer to the park. We call it Aggie park after the dog, which we dog sit occasionally. We first went to this park which is a fair walk…but doable…when we had the dog as it had loads of green space for walking dogs. But it soon became her favorite as it is large enough to offer loads for her to do, usually has lots of children and most importantly as I said is close enough that we can walk to it.

During the Spring and Summer, PanKwake loves (or maybe that should be lives) for her time in the park. Honestly, I have spent more time outside with this child than I did as one myself (I preferred playing quietly inside the cool house with my dolls). And while I am being honest, more than all the other five children combined (we lived in the country with a huge yard and neighbors who were more than happy to let me know if they got up to anything they should not). But living in a small apartment in a big city, the parks are our only option. They also offer two of the primary building blocks for our unschool.

First of all, they provide her with the opportunity to jump, climb and run…to meet those immense proprioceptive needs of hers. Meeting her sensory needs has always been our primary strategy for addressing her autistic tendencies. As the Autism Experts ( postulate in their Sensory Funnel, if you address the underlying cause, i.e. the almost constant bombardment of sensations, then the other things like communication and social skills just handle themselves.

Our park bag - always good for helping PanKwake to make friends.
Our park bag – always good for helping PanKwake to make friends.

Secondly, parks also are excellent ‘classrooms’ for practicing her social skills. And she has advanced far beyond what similar children on the spectrum might be expected to. Every time we go to the park we carry our park bag. A huge bag for life filled with balls, Frisbees, buckets and shovels, parachute men, and of course bubbles…who knows what else. She has learned to share, pretty much. Of course, not perfectly, she never shares her red parachute man, and if you refuse to play tag with her, don’t expect her to share her toys with you. But then again why do adults force children to share ‘everything’ when they won’t share…their laptops/tablets, smart phones or lovers? We should all have our boundaries, those things that are just ours and which we are free to say…I don’t share that.

She has also learned to take turns…most of the time. The only time this elicits a meltdown now is on the zip line when she is contentedly sharing with two or three other children and suddenly a group of two or three more want to join. She just cannot manage to understand ‘fair’ in that situation. She cannot slot the new group into the existing one.

But overall, I am very proud of her social skills including standing up for herself and explaining her special needs to other children. Honestly, most of the time, my child is not the problem. Other children are. Or worse yet, their parents. Too often when she approaches other children and politely asks them to play tag with her, they either completely ignore her or they say, “That’s a baby game, why are you still playing baby games?” It borders upon bullying but these days she usually just walks away.

What bothers me most though are the adults…the parents, carers and grandparents, who should know better. They can be the biggest bullies on the playground. An incident the other day illustrates this best. After approaching half a dozen or more of those kids who ignored her or made fun of her, PanKwake finally found two sisters, one a bit younger and the other a tween. They agreed to play tag with her and I was ‘it’ of course. I chased them about the park for a good ten minutes or more. The younger needed a wipe so we grabbed one out of the bag (oh that’s what else is in there too). As we were doing so, she asked a question that led me to begin explaining that PanKwake was autistic.

I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth when this older woman, most certainly their grandmother rushes over and pulls them away. Now I might live in London but I am not some superficially polite Brit who will just ignore such things. I am a loud-mouthed, opinionated American and proud of it. I looked right at the woman when PanKwake asked why the girls could not play with her anymore. In front of my child and hers…honestly loud enough for half the park to hear, I said, “Because some people are rude and ignorant.”

Am I ashamed of that? Heck, no. My only regret is that I should have first said…“Autism is NOT contagious.” I am thinking about making me a shirt that says that actually. It is what I want all those parents, carers and grandparents to know…it is not a cold or flu…or even Ebola…your child cannot catch Autism from playing with mine…or touching her…even from being her friend.



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