When we last heard from the hormone-addled, resident autistic teen about the subject of dating, he was coming up with a plan for the parents of the girl he’s interested in to become familiar with him. And the autistic teen’s mother was encouraging him to wait until high school.
Well, folks, that waiting period is nearing its end. Eighth grade is almost over. And Nigel has begun to make his move. He informed me last week that he had “finally” told the long-time object of his affection how he feels about her by writing a note. I asked him if he hand-wrote it or typed it, and he said that he hand-wrote it, which must have been quite an undertaking for him. He said that he wrote of her “beauty and grace,” and that he feared, in telling her, that she would feel uncomfortable around him. He wrote that, too. Holding my breath, I asked him how Stephanie responded to the note. “She was okay with it,” he said. “She’s still my friend.” And then he nonchalantly bit into an apple and walked out of the kitchen.
Here’s the back story: For months, Nigel has talked about this girl. In the early stages, it was “She understands my difference.” This was when he still attended the middle school full time. Then, after I began homeschooling him, he would go for walks in the neighborhood and stand in front of her house, hoping she would come out to talk to him. A few times he knocked on the door, and her parents politely declined. He would film his Lego videos in his room, and I would hear him say in an announcer’s voice the names of the people starring in the film; Stephanie always received top billing. When I would pick him up from his weekly social skills class at the middle school, he asked me if we could find Stephanie’s class so that he could say hello. Since, at the time, he was not officially a student, we could not.
And then, six weeks ago, he began attending the middle school again, part-time. I would pick him up from his half day and ask how lunch went, since that time is unsupervised, and he used to be targeted then. “Fine,” he would answer. “Stephanie sat with me. I think I’m in love.” I wanted to hug this girl, to thank her for being so kind to my son. But I also wanted to gently prepare Nigel for the disappointment of unrequited love. I would tell him that he had to remember that people don’t always have the same feelings toward each other, that someone might want a person to be their boyfriend or girlfriend, but that person just wants to be friends. I told him that that happens to people of all ages, including adults, whether they’re autistic or not. It’s just a part of life.
What I didn’t know when Nigel told me about giving Stephanie the note was that there was a school dance two days later. And Nigel wanted to go. I’m sure he had hoped that Stephanie would have wanted to be more than just friends for the occasion of the dance, but even in the face of polite rejection, Nigel still wanted to go. I was very proud of how he was handling his emotions in this situation – he was showing exceptional maturity for someone with a lower emotional age. And that is why I felt confident letting him go to the dance without an aide. He had attended another dance three months before, but the school required him to have an aide with him, and things went well. Nigel remembered that stipulation. When he asked me about going to the new dance, he quickly added, “I asked the deans and they said it was okay that I could go without M,” (his previous aide). And my heart soared, not only because the deans had approved it, but because Nigel had thought to ask. He took it upon himself to make something happen that was important to him. And he did it the right way.
I still felt a little nervous about him attending the dance alone. But he excitedly told me that it wasn’t just a dance – there would be an obstacle course, video games, and other activities. I suggested ear plugs for the two-hour sensory bombardment. “No, Mom, I want to be like everybody else.” So I dropped him off with five dollars and came home to wring my hands, waiting for the phone call about some behavioral incident.
But there were no calls. I went early to pick him up, so that I could park near the entrance. I regretted not reminding him to come out front as soon as it was over. I had, however, rehearsed with him what he would do if anyone came up to him and started harassing him. I dreaded the thought that, here he was, trying so hard, and someone who enjoyed giving him a hard time would just come along and get him riled up and ruin the evening. I envisioned walking up to the double doors to pick him up and one of the teachers would pull me aside and tell me about a “situation.” Ugh.
But less than a minute after I walked up to the double doors, Nigel came striding toward me from another direction, flushed and happy. He had won with the fastest time on the obstacle course. That’s great, I told him. Did you see Stephanie? “No, I don’t think she was here. But I still had fun.” Did anyone bother you? I asked tentatively. “No, Mom. No one bothers me anymore.” I hugged him and said, “I’m so glad. And I’m glad you had fun tonight.” Then I drove home, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time.
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P.S. Something else I’m feeling emotional about – Aidan’s surgery is tomorrow (Monday). Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!