How to have compassion: 13-year-old boy with autism shares his perspective

Ken Rabow


As a life coach, I work with all sorts of people in their teens and 20s. I learn from all of them. One of my most powerful learning lessons came from a 13-year-old client with Autism, who allowed me to see the dangers of people in power trying to “do the right thing.” I am pleased to share with you now the inner workings of one the most interesting minds I have ever met. Stephen will share with you how Autistic people are treated (with the best of intentions) and how they should be treated.

How to Have Compassion
My name is Stephen. I am a creative, charismatic, wise, 13 year old who gets good grades and I’m autistic. Yeah, I said that. No, I’m not some dysfunctional shmoe sitting on a couch with my coach translating all my words. I’m a guy who has something to say, who happens to be autistic.

Let me tell you a story. It’s a real story about truth, deception and the school I used to go to (you know who you are). One day last March we had an assembly telling us about the “special” basketball game that was going to happen one week from then.
Our principal told us that we would be facing a “pro” basketball team made up of grade sevens, eights and high school kids and that it was supposed to be just for fun.

Our team was mostly grade sixes. Pretty young. Not very experienced. Kind of noobs and it was a fairly small basketball team made up of kids with different levels of Autism. I hadn’t signed up that year because I thought I had enough to do with karate and had done basketball and soccer the year before. The last year we hadn’t faced another school, though.

The team started practicing and my friend found out who the other basketball team was and he was pretty confident that we were going to get demolished. I thought they were going to get demolished too, but as it turns out what happened was even worse!

On the day of the basketball game, we walked into the school. It had massive hallways with lockers on both sides. At least it was massive compared to what I was used to. We walked down a few flights of stairs and went to one of the three gyms in the school. This gym was gigantic. The basketball nets were very high with a score board up top and bleachers for us to sit in.

I went to sit down on one of the middle bleachers only to find out that the opposing school basketball team was even bigger than I expected — high schoolers galore and even huge grade sevens and eights.

They started by introducing the teams and all the players. The teams set up and we began the first quarter. On the very first play our team got the ball and went to the other team’s net. They were just standing all around shooting the ball over and over. They kept missing and then trying again to the point that it became ridiculous. Me and the teacher beside me made a joke that our team was camping and roasting marshmallows. Game-related chuckles ☺

After that our team eventually scored and the game continued. The same thing kept happening. We scored most of the goals while the opposing team would score the occasional points. It was in the third quarter that I realized what was really happening.

One of their players passed the ball to our player. That was when I got it. I knew why our team wasn’t being demolished. When our players were “camping” the other team wasn’t fighting back because the other team was being easy on us. We were lied to. Deceived. It was then I realized the truth. This wasn’t just for fun. It was to deceive us to make us feel good about ourselves.

It made me feel angry. It made me think I was lied to probably every other time we had played. It made me doubt all the victories I had achieved in the past. It made me feel that it was all for nothing.

I asked the teacher next to me: “Why is the other team being easy on us?” The teacher said “I’ll talk to you about this afterwards” and the way he said it to me made me feel that he wanted it to be secret. That he didn’t want it to ever be known.

Now many teachers at my old school may argue that they weren’t “technically lying,” but it doesn’t even matter. They used a form of deception on students that they knew would never figure it out. As one of those students who did figure it out, I can tell you: I’d rather be told I’m weak in something than to find out later that I had been lied to about it.

The Moral of the Story
You can have compassion for people without deceiving them.

Try to find teams that are balanced and equal to each other and if that’s not possible, then switch the teams around, put some of the monster players on our team and some of the autistic players on their team. Then all the players would learn to cooperate with people that they aren’t quite used to working with.

Honest and realistic compliments and criticism would be much more effective and tolerable by people like me.

Afterward by Ken
I was probably the fifth person that Stephen had shared this story with and the typical response Stephen had heard was that he should just let it go. My response was: “Let’s write it down, figure out a moral and share it with everyone!” Now I’m asking you to please share this with parents, teachers, schools and every person who truly wants to help people in need, using respect and honor as their guidelines.


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