One of the foster carers I work with told me an incredibly sweet story yesterday, and I want to share it with you. I think it teaches a very good lesson. I’ve changed the names for confidentiality. The foster child is a 12 year old boy, let’s call him James. He is on the Autistic spectrum and has global developmental delay. We’ll call the carer Julianne. James has lived with her for 2 years.
Julianne had been trying to find some social/leisure activities for James, for a long time. But due to his autism, and developmental delay, a lot of youth clubs or sports groups would not be appropriate for him. When he was 10, he was asked to stop coming to the local football club because everytime someone tackled him to get the ball he would punch, kick or even bite them. James doesn’t understand social interaction – he can’t understand sarcasm or teasing, and will get very upset and angry if he this happens – but he really craves friendships like those that his older foster siblings have. Julianne had been looking for the right fit for him when a friend recommended a youth club for children and teenagers with learning difficulties.
Julianne decided to take James along, and see if it might be a good match.
The first evening that they went, James was a little nervous. But when they got to the youth club, Julianne quickly realised this was James’ place. There were a number of other young people there, and some were displaying quite “classic autistic” behaviours. James joined in playing a game of Pool with some boys, none of them knew the rules but it didn’t matter. One boy was running around the room, shouting his head off and banging on any metal surface to get a tinny sound. He not only had learning difficulties, he was also different physically – he had water on the brain which meant that his head was not the ‘normal’ shape.
James caught sight of him and immediately shouted over to Julianne “hey Julianne, look at that boy!”, pointing at him. Julianne groaned inwardly, hoping that whatever James said would not be too inappropriate. She motioned to James not to point at the other boy, but he shouted again “no Julianne, look at that boy!” Julianne then told James to shh and carry on his game, but James was adamant. He left the Pool table and went over to the boy, taking him by the arm and leading him over to Julianne.
Julianne was mortified and could feel the eyes of the other carers and the youth club leaders watching her to see what kind of inappropriate comment James would come up with. But when he and the other boy got to her –
“Hey look Julianne, he has the same t-shirt as me!”
James didn’t see the other boys’ disabilities, he didn’t recognise that there was anything ‘different’ about him – or the other people in the club. He only saw that they had the same t-shirt. When Julianne told me this story, I have to admit that I teared up. What a lot we have to to learn from children like James, who focus on the smallest similarity rather than discriminate against anyone who is different.