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The definition of tolerance is the ability or willingness to tolerate something. In particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

We tolerate traffic. We tolerate having to pay taxes. We tolerate schlepping our kids to this activity or that but we do NOT tolerate each other. Or at least, we should not be preaching tolerance as a form of how others include our children. I have been marinating in this thought for a couple of weeks now. I have seen, all too often, my son wave at another child at school and have that child look at him, perhaps wave back lamely, and then return to the activity they were engaged in with other kids. THAT is tolerance. THAT is not what I want for my child. And, I do not believe, that is what other parents want their children to do either.
My child is different from yours. That is true. But, in some ways he is the same. At times, he feels alone. At times, he feels confused. At times, he feels disappointment. The difference is, he can not express it so easily. He can not get over these feelings of isolation as easily as other children. But he should not be tolerated.
We live in a society that preaches inclusion. The definition of inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Just letting my son, or children like him, in, is not the true definition of this term. It is actually INCLUDING him in something. It is actually taking the time and energy to have him participate in an activity. It is not enough to wave back and then ignore him. You must ask him to join and then let him make the decision whether or not to follow through. But I can’t expect children to know that. I do expect their parents, and teachers, and counselors, and instructors, and elders to walk them through this process of accepting everyone, no matter how different.
My son is not asking to be your best friend. He is not asking to be included in everything in your life. Actually acknowledging his existence is not the same as invited him to participate. If you took the time, you may realize that he is a pretty cool kid. He is very funny and silly. His demands are little, probably less than most kids his age. But, we can’t call our lives inclusive, if we don’t teach ourselves and our children the true meaning of that word. We can’t participate in this world, without actually being present in it and taking the time to make it better.
Our children’s generation will be the first to actually live with autism. The CDC has just announced the latest findings that 1 in 68 kids in the US have autism, and 1 in 48 in New Jersey. This generation will grow up with autism being a part of their vernacular. They will know more than any other generation has before them about what it means to have autism and what people with autism are like, what they are capable of, what their limitations may be. They will understand that every person with autism is unique, and that they ARE indeed special. We, as the adults responsible for molding these young minds have an amazing responsibility to our children to help them along this journey to understanding their peers because, for the first time, these children are in their classes, on their swim team, in their computer lab and they must do more than tolerate them. They must learn to include them and become a part of the journey themselves.
This is what I hope for. And I start this process by teaching my typical child that she must accept her brother and love him for who he is, however difficult that may be for her. Partly, because my job as a parent, and a member of the human race, is to teach her the good in all people. That we travel through this thing called life with others all around us, and we take from those people what they have to offer us. You may learn a thing or two along the way but you MUST let people in, no matter how different from you they may be.


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