Water wasn’t spouting from the dolphin’s mouth, so I led Philip to a crocodile that shoots water through its snout instead. Finding him satisfied with this alternative, I sat in an Adirondack chair to watch.
An innocuous pop song piping through the outdoor speakers was muffled by the hum of pumps, the splash of water on concrete, and the squeals of children. The overcast sky lingering from earlier rainstorms explained the sparse population at the spray park. There were, however, four children drawing with chalk in the zone where Philip now played.
The youngest was the first to approach. She began to fill a container with water pouring out of the crocodile’s left nostril. Philip chose that moment to cover the right nostril, causing the water to shoot over the girl’s head. She studied Philip before walking over to her grandmother.
“Grandma, why is he doing this?” She gyrated her hips, trying to mimic Philip’s side to side rocking.
“I don’t know ,” the woman responded.
The girl rinsed away chalk with her dish of water and then returned for a refill. She eyed Philip, but tolerated his rocking. She seemed to realize he was unintentionally splashing her face with his play.
Her brother was less understanding.
“Hey! Don’t do that!” the boy yelled when Philip diverted the water away from his container. “Don’t do that!” he whined, but Philip played on. After another ineffectual “Heee-yyyy!” he moved Philip’s hand. Philip put his hand back moments later, so the boy took Philip by the wrist once more.
I watched, my stomach roiled, and my brain reeled.
He’s touching Philip. Will he hurt him?
You’re the mom who hasn’t taught her only child to share.
Wait; why should he share? Philip found the one spot where he wants to play. That whiny kid can go anywhere. Why doesn’t he?
You can’t always be there. Philip will have to learn to handle this.
But should I speak up for him? Too late, it’s over.
Yet it wasn’t over. The other two girls came to fill buckets. The oldest gave Philip an annoyed look and sought a different water source. The other girl stood her ground.
“Stop doing that!” she shouted at Philip. Water from the left nostril shot into her face when Philip blocked the right side. “Stop it!” she demanded, but Philip was engrossed in the cause and effect of his play.
The girl had a lid with her. She began flapping this in the stream, sending water in Philip’s face. I read the calculation on her face, saw that she too was contemplating cause and effect. I couldn’t sit still any longer.
I forced myself to slowly stand, casually stroll over and calmly speak to the girl.
“Can I tell you something?” I asked.
She stared at me.
“He probably doesn’t understand you. When you ask him to stop, he might not know that you’re talking to him. He doesn’t talk. He’s focused on having fun.”
With perfect timing, Philip interrupted me with a shower of water in my face.
“See,” I chuckled, “he even got me wet. He’s not trying to be mean, he probably just doesn’t understand.”
She looked at Philip and then back at me.
“He’s not trying to be mean,” I said once more before I returned to my chair.
I played it back through my mind.
Was it right to intervene?
I should have knelt down instead of towering over her.
Did I make her understand?
Did I just insult Philip?
Did I just speak up for or speak down about my autistic son?
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