During a warm, sunny winter day, I heard a radio call from my guard at the top of the slide to the guard at the run-out. The instructions were: “Tell the parents that if
the child continues to not listen and run up to the slide top, he
won’t be able to go down anymore.” That got translated
to the parents as, “He can’t go down
This may sound like a common occurrence, but in this case, the
child was autistic. His name was Stevie. And the situation quickly
spiraled out of control when Stevie’s father became
I dispatched my supervisor to intervene, but the father still
came to look for a “higher-up.” I told him I was aware
of the situation, agreed that it wasn’t handled the best way,
and assured him that the guards in question were not discriminatory
and insensitive, as he had alleged.
Things settled down for a while, but you guessed it — the
problem was not resolved. The initial guard stopped to see me
before returning from break to ask not to go back to the top of the
slide because the other guards had been allowing Stevie to push to
the front of the line and sit in the start tub. This had resulted
in a minor collision. I knew that allowing her to skip over was not
really the solution. She was also one of my supervisory staff.
I believed this friction had been self-created and wanted my
supervisory team to learn to handle it.
I asked the duty supervisor to try to get Stevie to pause when
he reached the top of the slide until it was safe to let him go.
This didn’t go too well because Stevie had already
established a pattern.
Finally, going against my desire to let my staff resolve this, I
approached Stevie’s mom. Knowing that I had to be careful not
to add gasoline to the fire, I introduced myself and asked
permission for advice. I explained the situation and asked for her
guidance. I admitted we weren’t as well-trained when it came
to children with autism. And she admitted she wasn’t as
The solution was to have Stevie’s mom walk to the top of the
tower to assist us, and to place a portable gate at the top of the
stairs. Stevie was puzzled at first, but learned to wait till the
gate was opened.
When Stevie’s mom left, she warmly thanked us for our understanding and help.