I was appalled when I heard over the car radio that a young boy had been kicked by a man at a playground.
The headlines added to my outrage: Police investigating after man seen kicking boy at Yishun playground (TODAY). Mother lodges police report against man who kicked her autistic son at Yishun playground (Mothership).
I was particularly dismayed that the victim was an autistic, five-year-old boy. Yes, April is Autism Awareness Month and I have a boy who is 12 and autistic, but it would have been just as reprehensible on any day of any month, and whether or not I have an autistic son.
So there I was, engulfed with trepidation as I prepared to watch the video. I was prepared to lapse into kuebiko – that state of exhaustion brought about by the witnessing of meaningless violence.
No. It didn’t happen.
Sure, the video of the scene at the sandpit of Sunshine Childhood Playland in NorthPoint City contained what could be interpreted as a kick to a child. But I was relieved – that the boy, Dexter, appeared unharmed.
The mother had made a Facebook post that he had been “kicked, pushed and rough handle (sic)”.
Kicked? Some 38 seconds into the video, there was something that resembled that. But it looked like the man, a father of two children who were also at the playground, was extending his leg to push Dexter away rather than hurt him.
Pushed? At around 1 min 22 sec, the man appears to push Dexter, who had been intruding into his personal space. Dexter then hits the man’s back with two outstretched arms, and when the man stands, Dexter retreats, bumping into a slide behind him. There may have been slight contact between Dexter and the man’s arm as he stood up, but it didn’t seem to be a strike to hurt the child.
And was Dexter roughly handled? Well, the man in the video wasn’t exactly gentle. But he did fling a spade and a chair. Not at Dexter, though, who appeared to be hankering the man for the two items. The man appeared to fling them away, probably – in my opinion – so that Dexter would go after them and leave him alone.
You could argue that Dexter was kicked, albeit very lightly; pushed, though it looked more like a nudge; and roughly-handled – though it looked like the the plastic spade and chair received a lot more rough treatment than Dexter did. If anything, playful Dexter seemed to be a lot rougher on the man than the man was on him.
If I could meet the people in the video, this is what I would say to them:
The father of the two toddlers – I get it that you may have been worried for the safety of your children. But your tiny toddlers weren’t in any danger, and there was absolutely no need to be so hostile to a young child. You are a grown man. The young boy you appeared to kick is struggling to grow up with all the challenges facing a person on the autism spectrum. He wanted to play with your children. He did not need to be attacked by their parent. I would have allowed Dexter to join my toddlers if I were you. It would have been a superb learning experience for them to interact with someone who wasn’t neurotypical. Perhaps you had no idea that Dexter was on the autism spectrum. That’s understandable. But you could have used the opportunity to teach your children an important lesson on sharing and being kind to others. If you had taken some time to understand Dexter, annoying as he might’ve been to you, you would realise he is as human as your two lovely toddlers, although a little different.
Mother of Dexter – I am glad you have taken responsibility for the 90-second lapse in Dexter’s supervision. It is frustrating that some people seem unable to understand what autism is about. And it is upsetting when some people do not treat your child right. Especially if they are parents themselves. Still, making a police report seems to me like an overreaction. I don’t know what the exchange between you and the man was about, but I would have taken the opportunity to explain Dexter’s autism to him. It was a lesson he missed.
Dexter – I’m not sure if you’re verbal or non-verbal, but I would have tried to communicate with you if I’d had the chance. Having a child with autism, I would probably know quite early on that you are on the spectrum. I would have led you away from the annoyed stranger, or located your parents and alerted them to the situation. But not before explaining to the stranger that you’re different from his neurotypical children. You’re welcome to play with my son. You will pose no danger to him: Alex is 12, stands at 1.75m and weighs 95kg. He’s as cheeky as you are. The two of you would get along.
And if you’re just a regular person watching the video
No doubt what the man did to Dexter wasn’t nice. It wasn’t even right. However, I would put his behaviour down to ignorance rather than malice. All we see is less than three minutes of video footage so something could have happened earlier that we aren’t aware of. Whatever it is, I am not excusing his behaviour. But rather than incriminate him, I would try to educate him about children like Dexter. I could be wrong, but I doubt a neurotypical child would have been so persistent, hanging around a stranger way past his welcome.
Nevertheless – and I’m bracing myself to be lynched for this – I feel that it may have been extreme on the part of Dexter’s mother to have reported the incident to the police. Indeed, there appears to be a kick, and the man did seem defensive at times. But to think that he had kicked the child to hurt him would be an exaggeration.
You saw Dexter. He is autistic. It is a disability that is hidden. Some people who aren’t familiar with the symptoms may find him eminently annoying. However, beneath the bundle of energy that he is, there’s a human heart that needs love.
He meant no harm at all. And all he really wanted to do was to make new friends and play with them, like any normal – or neurotypical – child his age would.