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This Is Not for You

Our children need and deserve their own spaces to express their minds and bodies freely — without parents’ disapproving stares and glares. Thank goodness we have one nearby. Now, how do we keep the disapprovers out?

Your child is LOUD. He moves more (and more rapidly) than society deems appropriate. Or she fails to watch out for younger, smaller children who are not on her ADHD radar. Our kids break unspoken rules, like “no sticks on the playground” or “no hurling balls from the ball pit.” They have a great time, which looks a lot like bad behavior when viewed through a neurotypical lens.

While your child is having a grand old time, some other parent notices — and she glares. She glares hard, as if the force of it will turn someone to stone or at least enforce societal norms (If only it were that easy). The parent glares at your kid, and then at you. Maybe it’s slightly warranted. Maybe your kid almost ran over her baby and you need to make your child recognize it.

Is your child a real threat to the social order? A vague threat to safety? Does he raise safety concerns by throwing sticks over in the corner of the park? Is he teaching some undesirable behavior while blowing off steam — something he seldom gets to do safely? Are you some kind of terrible parent for allowing whatever’s happening to happen?

Sadly, this happens even in spaces specially designed for non-neurotypical kids.

Locally, we’re lucky enough to have a gym designed specifically for non-neurotypical kids, most of whom have autism and ADHD. It’s full of sensory play opportunities — a giant ball pit, sensory swings, a rock-climbing wall, rooms with bubble-popping games on the floor, calm-down rooms with weighted blankets. My three sons adore it. They fling themselves into the ball pit. They rocket in huge circles on the swings. They leap from one structure to the big padded poofs everywhere. They move baby trampolines to improve their jumping.

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No one tells them, “No.” The staff might say, “Blaise, I see you like to swing really hard. When you do that, can you swing on the green swing so you don’t hit your head on the ladder?” Which is very different than criticism, and it generally assures compliance, because they have accepted his play and accommodated it within safe paradigms. Seriously, this place is like an ADHD fairyland. They tout the ball pit as the ultimate sensory calm down. I got in it. They were right.

Except last time, “That Lady” showed up with her two kids. They were young, about three and one, and they appeared neurotypical. Her 3 year old decided to be best buddies with my 8 and 6 year olds. He followed them around everywhere and jumped on them, which made them very, very angry (another symptom of ADHD is hyperactivity), especially when the mom did nothing about it.

When they began to run away from him, when they flipped or jumped too close to him, the glaring started. First at my oldest when he was off throwing a tantrum in the calm down room because she wouldn’t stop her kid from jumping on him — then at me. She shot me daggers as my kids hooted and hollered and jumped in the ball pit, and they enjoyed the space created for them — one of the few spaces in this world where they could be themselves without fearing retribution or reprisal.

I tried once. I said, cheerily as I could muster considering her sour face, “Isn’t this place the best for kids with sensory issues?” She grunted and moved on. The glares continued.

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I expect those glares when I’m out in the world. But when I’m in a gym for non-neurotypical kids? Lady, you brought your so-called normal kids into our world. A world where kids make lots of noise and have “age-inappropriate” meltdowns, a place where kids yell and shout and fling themselves around in ways that look dangerous to the untrained eye (don’t worry, they generally know where their bodies are in space at any given time).

But here it is: These kids are not bad. They are not ill-socialized, ill-mannered, or inconsiderate. They are not badly parented, so get your Gorgon glare off me, lady. Their brains are wired differently. Their brains tells them to run and jump and try to fly, to seek sensory input as much as possible. If you bring neurotypical babies into the mix, it’s your job to keep them safe, because this is not the space for them. It’s the space for my kids. My kids, who have so few spaces. You can take your kid to the mall playplace, to the regular local gym, to the splash pad. I can’t. The weight of glares and stares becomes too heavy. We stick to empty-ish parks. To the homes of friends. To the woods. To this gym.

So if you’re coming into our space, respect it. Respect my kids. Don’t let it happen that, when we leave, my oldest takes my hand and says, “Mama, why was that lady so mad at us?”

“Because she doesn’t understand you, Blaise,” I said, as my heart broke a little.

Don’t make me do that. Don’t make me say that to my son, in one of our few safe places. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And damn it: The space is not for you, anyway.

[Your Autism-Friendly Behavior Intervention Plan]

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