Remember that post I wrote shortly before school started – the one about the three girls I had talked to one afternoon? No? That’s okay. Go ahead and read it here. We have time.
Over the past twelve years, I’ve talked to a great number of people about autism. I’ve talked to relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, and complete strangers. I’ve talked to parents at playgrounds, ice cream store employees, grocery checkers, and kids at bus stops. I’ve even gone to a different country to talk about autism. And regardless of where or how or to whom, I always wonder if I’ve said too much, if I haven’t said enough, or if what I’ve said made any difference.
Sometimes it does when I least expect it.
About six weeks ago, my son started high school with a self-imposed vow to ride his bike to and from school every day. He had been practicing around the neighborhood for a few years, and I believed he was ready to do it, even though the idea made my heart race. The day before school started, we did a dry run with him riding his bike to school and me following in my car, about a hundred yards behind. In a previous post, I described how I saw him ride past three teenage girls, and how I saw the girls mimic him with exaggerated gestures, laughing. I quelled my anger and made a split-second decision to pull up to them, roll down the window, and politely, diplomatically let them know that my son has autism. The girls seemed receptive, albeit embarrassed. I didn’t really say much, and I wasn’t sure what good it would do. In fact, I just thought, Three people – a drop in the bucket. But I also realized that getting those three people on our side might make even a slight difference.
Weeks pass. Things are mostly okay at school and the bike-riding is going well, to my ultimate relief. I come home from work on a hectic Wednesday and rush around to get a few things done before my two boys get home from school. Minutes later, my younger son waltzes through the front door, his bus on time. He hurries to remove his confining shoes and greets me. He goes to the kitchen to get a snack. I look at the shed in the backyard to see if my firstborn is putting his bike away yet, since the boys usually get home within minutes of each other. Not yet. I sit on the couch and pretend to nonchalantly read a magazine. Fifteen minutes pass, and my anxiety continues to rise. I get up and decide to go look for him. I jump as the phone rings, pounce on it. Thank God, thank God, it is my son. He has remembered to use the new pre-paid cell phone that is in his backpack. He tells me in his flat voice that there is a problem with his bike. “Did a car hit you?” I gasp.
“No. The rear tube and tire are falling off. Could you come and pick me up?”
Oh, wonderful words. Beautiful sentence structure. Impressive problem-solving. Blessed safety!
“Yes, yes, of course. Where are you?”
“In front of the elementary school.”
“Okay, I’m getting in the car right now. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”
A block from the elementary school, I see him, walking his bike while holding the handle bars. And then I realize that there is a girl walking beside him. I do not know her name, but I instantly recognize her. She is one of the three girls. Yes. I almost don’t believe it. Awareness in action.
I turn up the block before them and park the car. I get out, wanting to thank her for walking with my son, but as soon as she sees my car, she immediately gets on her cell phone and crosses the street. I get the awkward vibe – she wants to help, but she is still a little embarrassed by her previous behavior. I don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, so I let it go. I thank her in my mind, send her the appreciation vibe.
I open up the back of my small SUV, and my son walks over with his bike. I praise him for remembering to call me, and together we remove one of the bike’s wheels so that we can fit it in the car. Afterward, we get in and I ask him if the girl had been walking with him long. “Not too long,” he says. “But she was nice.”
Oh, yes. When you least expect it. Even drops in the bucket make a difference.