Firefighter comforts preschooler with autism in sweet photo: ‘It warmed my heart’

A firefighter hugged and comforted a little girl with autism during a school safety presentation, captured in a photo that made her mother proud.

Brittany Templeton’s 3-year-old daughter Kayli was diagnosed with autism in September and when firefighters from the California Wheatland Fire Authority paid a Wednesday visit to her preschool, the break in routine made her nervous. Volunteer fireman Anthony Banas, took notice of the little girl during a presentation on safety equipment.

“We were showing the children our gear to make it less scary than it might be in a real situation, and I noticed Kayli in the corner with her teacher,” Banas, 25, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She looked afraid.”

Banas had paid particular attention to the little girl because his 20-year-old brother also has autism, and he recognized the signs that she was in distress. “She didn’t have that usual shyness of children her age,” Banas tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

During a question-and-answer session with the children, Kayli spontaneously approached Banas and hugged him, pleasing the first responder, who also serves as an emergency room technician and a Navy Reservist. Someone photographed the moment and the image was soon shared on the fire department’s Facebook page.

The department also posted a message from Templeton on Facebook. “....I didn't even know she was struggling that day until I saw this picture,” wrote the mom-of-two, who is pregnant with her third child. “There were new people in her regular environment asking kids to try this and do this which would be AWESOME to most kids — but for her it can be overwhelming.”

Templeton wrote of Banas, “This sweet man let her cuddle, and relax right there on his lap for who knows how long because he could just tell she was having a hard time... As a parent, this kind of diagnosis can leave you wondering how each day is going to be. If someone is going to show her compassion, or judgement. And yesterday, it was compassion. Anyway, it warmed my heart and I thought the community should know the story behind the photo they posted yesterday”

Kayli and Banas have already reunited at the station, as depicted in a Fox 40 interview, where the tot played on the fire truck and gave high-fives to her new hero. Templeton tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Banas showed Kayli kindness instead of viewing her as “bratty.” To her point, Banas says that kids with autism deserve patience during difficult moments, not judgement.

“Kayli is on this firefighter kick now,” Templeton tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The department is right down the street from our home, so we will have to visit again.”

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