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To the Livestock Judge Who Didn’t Ask Questions

My son made his 4-H livestock show debut last week. At age 6, he participated in the noncompetitive class, showing a pig he borrowed from our neighbors.

Before his class, we watched the Junior Showmanship competition. Our neighbor was competing and we wanted him to watch her show. She worked with my son the last few months, teaching him how to show a pig. It was one of her pigs he would be bringing into the ring that afternoon.  

During showmanship, the judge is looking at how well the showman works with his or her animal. Usually, the judge asks the showman questions. This judge didn’t. Before he announced who won the class, he explained, almost apologetically, why he didn’t. His reason was he could watch the kids working with their animals and see what they knew about showmanship.  

Many parents may not have appreciated his judging technique, but I did. I wish more livestock judges followed his lead.

My son has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and we didn’t know what to expect when he entered the ring. 

ASD is a developmental disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Someone with ASD may have trouble making eye contact with people, find holding a conversation challenging, be sensitive to lights, sounds, or smells, or have trouble with other social, behavioral, or communication skills.  

We took him to the show the night before so he could get the new off and see, hear, and smell the animals and walk around the show ring while it was empty.

Over the last few months he visited the neighbors once or twice a week to work with their pigs. He walked them, washed them, cleaned their pens, and fed them. Some days, he walked the pig like a seasoned showman. Others, he ran around the yard, poked his show stick in the ground, moved the cones, and did everything but walk the pig.  

My son can get focused on one thing, and it’s hard to break that focus. During the show, his focus was on the pig. Had the judge asked my son a question, he may not have been able to get my son’s attention. If he had, the answer might have been about the pig, a train (my son’s current obsession), what he ate for lunch…in short, it could have been about anything.  

Answering questions is a social skill and not a strength for a person with ASD. It doesn’t mean they don’t know the answer, but it can mean they didn’t understand the question asked. In response, they may just walk away, not being rude, but leaving because they don’t understand the question itself or how to answer it, especially if they are asked for their opinion or to relate an experience. If this happened in the show ring, it could be the difference in a blue ribbon and a participation ribbon.

So, thank you, judge, for not asking questions. I hope more judges follow your lead and evaluate showmanship based on what they see in the ring, not what they hear from the participants.

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