Connecting with Special Needs Parents at the Playground

I believe the universe conspires to bring people together – and the recent gathering place is a playground.

One of my favourite parts of my day is when I pick T up from his after school program. We spend an hour hanging out at the playground.

Since July, he’s built friendships with a regular group of kids, including learning about the reciprocity of play from two older kids.

In more recent weeks, since school started, other faces have come into the mix.

One regular group is a mother and her two boys, aged 7 and 5. The younger boy is T’s age but is a fair bit shorter. The older boy, as the mother was quick to share, is autistic.

T and the younger boy have come to play very well together. I enjoy watching them chase each other and laugh together.

I get amused when they get annoyed at each other for not sharing the rocking horse. Or when the boy hits T. To be frank, it’s nice to see T get a dose of his medicine!

While T and the boy play, the older brother is off on his own exploring the park. The mother and I take the time to chat.

I’ve been forthcoming about T’s special needs, about his at-risk FASD prognosis. I’m also open about his adoption. In turn, the mother shares her own challenges and learnings with raising a boy with autism.

Going for a walk at the Port Union Waterfront this past weekend.

There have also been other special needs parents in the playground – although I’ve only seen them all once so far.

A few weeks ago, T was playing with the older kids when two other older siblings – Grades 1 and 3 – asked to join them.

As they played, I sat on a park bench and started to chat up these siblings’ mother.

She was quick to point out that both her children have learning disabilities. I, in turn, shared T’s story. She then said that she adopted both children and is a single mom and that she also thinks her kids may have FASD although the birth mother denied drinking during pregnancy.

It was at that moment that I remember a conversation with the school principal when we were registering T for the after school program.

I asked the principal if he had any experience with kids with FASD and he spoke about a sibling pair.

I had no doubt that I was speaking with the mother of said sibling pair.

It was so refreshing to talk openly with another parent who understands the nuance and the complexity of your own parenting experience.

She spoke about her children’s difficulties with school, her experience with medicating her two children, and her challenges as a single parent.

It was sobering to hear her story, because it made me realize that while the hubby and I had our challenges, we have it fairly good in comparison.

That was the first and only time that I saw that mother. I hope to see her again one day.

Going for a walk at the Port Union Waterfront this past weekend.

Speaking with these two mothers made me realize one common characteristic of special needs parents – and I see this in myself – how quick we are to explain our children’s behaviour to others, almost as if we feel self conscious or need to rationalize them.

I observed this in another young couple I saw at the playground about three weeks ago.

They were with their two young toddler boys. T was circling around the older one, making his dinosaur noises, and the boy started shouting loud noises back at T.

I laughed and told T, “Don’t make such loud noises. You’re going to scare the boy.”

Then the dad said with a laugh, “My son also has autism.”

That comment kind of caught me off guard but I appreciated his candor. I didn’t react or try to correct his assumption about T but just went along with it.

I shared these stories with the mother of two boys who I see regularly.

I joked that the playground is almost like an unofficial special needs parents conference and she said all of us parents are just trying to burn our children’s energy before bedtime.

And she has a point!

This past Thursday, we had an unexpected visitor at the playground: a beautiful fox.

All the kids got excited and started chasing this poor fox.

I had to be the boring parent and run interference when they cornered it and started stepping closer to the wild animal.

All the commotion and running was not for naught: T passed out fairly quickly that evening!

4 thoughts on “Connecting with Special Needs Parents at the Playground

  1. A fox in the playground is something you don’t see very often! Glad both you and T have found new friends to connect with. There’s nothing like a shared experience to bring people closer together. Makes you feel a little less alone in this big world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we were very surprised by that. I wonder if the pandemic and having less people out has affected wild animals and their comfort with coming out more to civilized areas.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel I am also pretty quick to say D has autism to help explain playground behavior too. Some parents can be so understanding and in the same boat. They are so nice to run into and accepting, as I am too – I also like to have D get a taste of his own medicine. It is also refreshing to know it is not just D that does the hitting or other negative behaviors. That is great you have made these connections. Always good to have someone to talk to that “gets it.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robyn. It’s been a wonderful blessing. The colder days mean less people in the playground though and with daylight savings time this weekend, it’ll be dark by the time I pick T up so I’m afraid these moments are gonna be on a standstill until February. We shall see.

      Hope you and Declan are having a good start to back to school this week!

      Liked by 1 person

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