Illustration by Tim Bobko
 

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 anymore.”

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 furious.

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 prepared also.

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.