Last weekend, I celebrated date night in a quaint, very romantic Italian restaurant. When we walked in, I immediately noticed the single red rose at every table and the flickering, slowly burning votive candles that set an inviting yet luxurious tone. The dining room had a fire crackling behind the stately stone hearth. I knew right away that this was going to be a lovely dinner.
About five minutes after we were seated, in walked a couple and their child. They were quiet, seemingly content to be there– not disruptive in any way. Yet, I was irked. From the moment the family sat down, the child did not lift his eyes from his iPad. He wore headphones and stared intently at the game or app he was using. From a few tables away, I began to fume. I could not focus on conversation at my table because I was too busy huffing over the child across the restaurant, completely disengaged from the world around him.
I have been consistently been noticing how over-connected our world is. When I walk down the street and look around to see dozens of people staring at their phones, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness. We may be overly connected to our technology, but we are so oblivious to the human, face-to-face connections around us.
Now, I describe the technology concerns I have had lately to give you some context of why it made me so upset to see a child so immersed in the technology that he became disconnected from the world. But this does not excuse the thoughts and frustrations I had before I thought to remind myself of people’s differences. It is highly possible that this child is on the autism spectrum and needed to disengage from the high-stress, unpredictable environment to self-soothe. It is possible that this is the parents’ first date in several months, that they were unable to find a sitter and needed an activity to keep their son busy while they had time to reconnect.
I cannot say for sure whether or not the child had a disability. I cannot make a definite judgment about whether that child needed the technology to feel comfortable, to take a sensory break. But I can say that anything is possible, and that I was quick to judge. As a special educator and an employee of KIT, I pride myself on my inclusive attitude. However, this was a time that I, as an advocate, failed to acknowledge diversity and rejected an opportunity to utilize compassion.
From one advocate to another– acknowledge that these types of mistakes happen. I hope you will be able to cut yourself some slack if you ever experience a situation like this. We are human– all of us!– and we can continue to inspire each other to include more fully.