On a recent family trip, David and Mercedes Rizzo found an unexpected way to help their daughter, who has autism, develop empathy.
The Pike Place Market in Seattle is a fascinating place. You can spend hours there exploring the many shops, the art and the eating establishments. It has been on our travel list for a while. We made a trip there recently. One of the interesting tourist attractions there are two larger-than-life bronze pig statues that are actually giant piggy banks. The pig in the front of the market is named Rachel and the one at the back of the market is called Billie.
The story goes if you touch the nose of each big and drop some change into its bank you will receive good luck. Now who doesn’t want good luck? Especially since the money is donated to a foundation that supports food banks, seniors and preschools. Their slogan is “Your change changes lives.”
This good work reminds us of the importance of good works illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount and the Corporal Works of Mercy. For tourists this is an opportunity to have fun looking for the statues, posing for a picture and making sure to drop coins into the bank. It is a perfect combination of fun and good works at the same time. It was an excellent opportunity for us to help our daughter Danielle, who has autism and is nonverbal, develop compassion and empathy for others.
Compassion and empathy can be difficult for people with autism. This is because difficulty with social skills and the processing of social information is one of the defining characteristics of autism. Christianity places a great deal of importance on recognizing the needs of others. The ability to recognize a need and respond to it is built upon a foundation of compassion and empathy. Unfortunately, the brain mechanisms governing empathy and compassion are largely disrupted in children with autism.
Fortunately, these skills can be improved with practice. The pig statues were fun for Danielle and something she could relate to. We explained to Danielle that she was giving the pigs money to help people who were hungry. Occasions like this in our children’s lives allow for the repetition necessary to learn complex social skills.
Our next stop was a visit to the Seattle Space Needle, a well-known landmark. What an adventure to be at the top looking down over the city. We hopped onto the monorail, an exciting experience for Danielle and our whole family. She was smiling and signing “train, train.” The train engineer made our day when she glanced at our son Colin’s t-shirt and announced: “We have a Philadelphia Phillies fan on board,” and then said “Go Phils.” Colin is truly a die-hard Phillies fan. He was also smiling.
Overall, it was a very positive experience, with lots of smiles, fun, and good works all in one. And like they say, Rachel and Billie are “bringing home the bacon.” So, if you have a chance to be in the Seattle area, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle might give your family some smiles and an opportunity for fun and good works.
Copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images: copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo, all rights reserved.
About the Author
David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more. Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child, (Word Among Us Press) and Spiritually Able and The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit (Loyola Press).