My son Caleb and I went to Starbucks on a recent Saturday morning. We often do this as a prelude to the weekly grocery shopping. It sweetens the deal, which is important, as he is about to be 14 and on the autism spectrum. Both of these factors contribute to his resistance to what in the autism world we call "non-preferred activities." Caleb is really tall for his age, 6'4" and still growing. This is a factor because he is big and often gets in people's way without realizing. He is also a sweet, sensitive kid, which is not a factor, except that I am his mother.
Caleb was standing by the counter waiting for his Frappuccino (decaf—we don't want to stunt his growth) and blocking the path of a young dad trying to herd three small children. The dad said to Caleb, "Could you get your head out of the clouds and get out of the way." It was not horrible, just frustrated and a little unkind, something a person says when they think other people's kids are being rude. Something a person says when they haven't learned there are disabilities you can't immediately see.
Fortunately, Caleb remained oblivious but I walked over to the dad and said to him quietly,"He's on the autism spectrum. He doesn't know where his body is in space or when he's in someone's way." I did not add, though I wanted to, "You may not realize this yet, but I promise you that someday your children will also need the kindness of strangers."
Soon it will be Caleb's decision whether or not to explain himself. But as he gets older and bigger (and bigger), my fear gets bigger too. I fear he will be met with more judgment and less understanding. He is so easily hurt; I fear the meanness. The dad nodded. He did not say anything but I thought maybe he took it in, a little bit.
We ended up sitting at the counter next to another young dad and his daughter. That dad told Caleb in great detail about the Clover coffee machine they now have at Starbucks and how it works and why the coffee it makes is better. They talked about pistons and forced hot water for a long time. "Thank you," I told him, when Caleb got up to go to the bathroom. "My son is on the spectrum too," he said. We smiled at each other and I remembered again that we are never alone, even when fear tells us we are. I remembered again that I choose to trust in kindness. I choose to believe that my child will not be alone either.