Empathy without a Roadmap
“Normal people have an incredible lack of empathy. They have good emotional empathy, but they don’t have much empathy for the autistic kid who is screaming at the baseball game because he can’t stand the sensory overload. Or the autistic kid having a meltdown in the school cafeteria because there’s too much stimulation.” — Temple Grandin
Children with Behavioral Challenges
I admire Temple Grandin and her body of work, tremendously. But, I don’t agree with the beginning of Ms. Grandin’s statement because I truly don’t believe that “normal” people have an incredible lack of empathy. I think “they” (humans with a broad spectrum of personalities, abilities, and awareness) have an incredible lack of comfort, skill, and practice expressing and conveying empathy. But I do agree that, as in Ms. Grandin’s stated example, many people can often lack empathy in what I will call “special circumstances.”
As is the case with invisible illnesses (such as autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue, or chronic pain), a child’s special needs are not always apparent to the eye. In many children with Down’s syndrome, yes, and in many children with more severe cases of Autism — but in children, or adults, on the milder end of the Autism spectrum, with Attention Deficit and/or Hyperactivity Disorders, or hearing impairment, there may be no apparent physical indication of “special circumstances.”
This is yet another example of why “compassion is always the answer” and should be our first natural response, in any given situation.
When acting out, children with these special challenges, particularly, and their parents, may get looks of disapproval or even unwanted advice to “get that child under control.” If you are a trained behavioral expert and honestly believe you can help, go ahead and reach out, verbally — but don’t expect your offer of help to be automatically well-received. Remember that both the child and the parent are likely under a high level of stress at that particular moment. If you are not a trained behavioral expert, say nothing and walk away, in order to give the parent and child some privacy.