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In Their Own Words – Acceptance Park

September 28, 2010 11 comments

This “In Their Own Words,” is written by Erica from Laughing Through Tears,  who started blogging about the “funnier” side of autism as a way to keep her sense of humor and sanity.

Last month on a 100-degree Sunday, my husband and I took the kids to a “water park.” That is to say, a park that had a water feature. This is what most people in our area do when the temperature moves north of 90F, and it can be a real challenge to find one that’s not overly crowded.

I always feel a certain degree of anxiety when I think about taking my kids to these types of parks, because of all the typical families that will be around to witness their peculiar behaviors (I’m allergic to public scrutiny). So, I thought and thought, and then remembered an obscure little park tucked in a neighborhood development behind a newer shopping plaza.

The problem with being a newer area is that all of the trees were still just saplings, giving off only postage stamp-sized patches of shade. After just 10 minutes, my husband turns a spectacular shade of sweaty vermilion and I shoo him off to a shaded pavilion while I stay to supervise the boys. Here we go, I think to myself.

A few moments in, and Cannon kneels down over the drain in the center of the fountains. “CANNON!” I call out sharply, knowing exactly what he is going to do.

A nearby couple looks over, surprised by my sharp tone.  “Nothing comes out of there. It won’t hurt him,” the dad says.

“Right, but he is going to lick it,” I say.

A slight pause while that sinks in, then the mom laughs and says, “Let him!”

While I’m wondering if I heard that right, Carson slips behind me to steal another woman’s soda. I rush over, gushing apologies; bracing myself for a dirty look and possibly sarcastic comment. “It’s fiiiine,” the woman drawls, as she proceeds to take a sip from the very same can a strange child just slurped on.  She then reaches into her pack and offers a juice pouch to Carson. “This is for my daughter, but you can have it instead.”

Completely stunned, I look around to get a better sense of who all of these people are. These can’t be parents of neuro-typical children– they’re too relaxed, too accepting, so utterly non-judgmental. Clearly, I’ve stumbled into a den of some of my own kind and not realized it. But no, these children are all having conversations with one another, taking turns activating the button that turns on the water spray, keeping their clothes on, and licking nothing or no one.

I watch in fascination as one little girl fills an enormous McDonald’s cup with reclaimed water from the fountains and then proceeds to dreamily spoon it into her mouth with a beach shovel. No one screams at her to stop.

The spray shuts off, and a boy of about eight years of age calls out to someone, anyone, to PUSH THE BUTTON. No one rushes over to enthusiastically reward him for making his request in a full sentence. Well, I do, because I’m just wired that way now, but his parents don’t. In fact, I think they’re ignoring him altogether. Until now I’ve only heard of this phenomenon, where a child talks so much that the parents actually tune him or her out.

“I’m BACK IN BUSINESS!” he shouts when I turn the water on for him, and I find myself automatically wishing that I had some goldfish crackers or m&ms to give him as language reinforcement.

When I can stand the heat no longer, I round up my little gremlins to leave. We depart to smiles and casual waves from a few of the parents. The park shimmers like a desert mirage when I cast one last, backwards glance at it. Did I dream this place– “Acceptance Park”– where a kid can truly be a kid, and no one gives a rip?

My husband joins us on our walk back to the car. “How was it?”

“Perfect, actually,” I tell him.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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