There is a little boy in Cole’s preschool class who still struggles with separation from his mom. On many days that he attends class, his eyes are rimmed with red from crying. He looks miserable. Cole often tells me that this child cried during class. Or that this child is “sad”. (In Cole speak, that probably means that the child is having a meltdown.) I haven’t ever been able to talk to this child’s mom about how I “get it”, as she’s always busy reassuring us parents that she’s ok, he’s ok, and that it’s just a rough morning.
Last week, this child was having another bad morning. He was crying at drop-off. His mom looked as frazzled as he did. I asked if I could help. Another mom, who seems to know them better, asked as well. She politely declined. I smiled and wished her good luck…and threw in, “I get it…” She looked at me with slight disbelief. She has no idea about Tate…she only knows Cole…the most “typical” of our lot.
Apparently, the crying from drop-off continued through the morning. Many of the children were watching this child as he cried and sobbed during the letter of week time. Cole went about his morning routine as best as he could, and according to his teachers, didn’t give the child who was melting down too much attention. As one activity transitioned to another, the kids had some play time. Cole scampered over to the play area and started to rummage around the bins.
His teacher said that he found what he was looking for–a stop sign. He walked up to her and said, “Can we tell _____ that it’s time to stop (points to the stop sign)–stop the crying. He needs to use words to tell us what he needs.” She said she was flabbergasted. Before she could give Cole an answer, Cole approached the boy. “_____, use your words to tell us what’s wrong.” Cole showed the boy the stop sign. The boy stopped crying. He was surprised that Cole said something. But he stopped. Cole invited the boy to play with him. The boy said no, but the meltdown was over. Cole went about his playtime.
When Cole’s teacher told me about the day’s events, she said that he was never rude or harsh. He didn’t bully. He was simply trying to help the boy who was having such a rough time at school. She couldn’t believe his method for coping with the issue, either. I told Cole’s teacher about Tate, and how Cole is accustomed to dealing with an autistic brother. This is what Cole knows. She then told me that the backstory of Tate’s autism explains a lot…she went on to say that Cole is more tolerant, more kind, more compassionate than the average kids in her class. She said he has patience and is often the first to try to comfort an upset peer. (COLE?! Our resident instigator?!)
I often worry about how our family’s experience with Autism will affect Cole and Jake. I worry that they’ll feel neglected. That they’ll feel slighted. That they’ll feel like they are less loved. I worry that they’ll act up–or out. That they’ll seek attention because they don’t feel like they get enough at home. I worry that they’ll be nasty to children who struggle.
After hearing about Cole’s experience at school, and knowing what I know about Jake, I am confident that, if anything, living with autism has given my boys perspective. It’s given them compassion–even Cole at 3.5 years old. Instead of staring, Cole went on with his day. Instead of making a production about the disruption, Cole tried to find a way to cope with it. Instead of judging, Cole tried to calm the boy and asked him to play.
This gives me hope that our boys will use the tools they have been given and will build upon them as they mature…and that the experiences with their brother will make them better men. More understanding. More compassionate. More patient. More empathetic. Just…More.