Something happened this weekend that stood out to me in ways I’d never thought about before. We were walking in the mall on Saturday. My son was talking about cars. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and such. We had just left a small kiosk in the mall that sold toy replicas of those cars and this weighed heavily on his mind.
I held his hand. He held mine. He made no eye contact with me or anything else for that matter. He was looking down and talking, echoing. He was happy. So was I.
From a distance, I swore I heard, “Tootles!” (Well, not Tootles but his real name…) I paused. It must be my imagination. Again, I heard him called. I looked ahead and off to the left. My son did not respond. He did not look for the source of the call. He continued talking, mostly to himself, a sly half smile on his face. The familiar turn of the head.
I saw a boy, older than my son, that I recognized from his summer camp. He was yelling to my son. “Hi Tootles!” he yelled cheerfully waving. Tootles, still oblivious did not appear to notice. He did not respond. I prompted him to say “hi” back. Tootles obliged. No real emotion on his face – obligatory under prompt response.
We kept walking. Once they’d passed, several thoughts ran through my head. First was how nice for that boy to make the effort to say “hi” to my son. Second, “who was that kid?” How will I ever prompt my son to tell me the names of people he knows for the next few years? He can barely remember them. If I don’t know the students, I will have better luck with a reticent inmate that I will at extracting the info from my son.
I had a feeling I knew who this boy was and so I asked my son, “Was that P?” My son ignored me. He had gone back to talking about cars. I asked again. He said, “Yes.” End of conversation. I could’ve asked him if it was “Attila the Hun” and he would have said, “yes,” most likely, to get me to stop talking. So, I was left, not knowing. I decided the next time this happens, I will approach the friendly child and introduce myself as Tootles’ mom and ask the child’s name. Unfortunately, I thought of this after the fact on this occasion. Oh well.
Still, I was left feeling pleased that other kids would approach my child for a hello, at least. You know, after all, he is supposed to be socially – uh- awkward, right?
The following day, my son and I were out picking up my tea, when we spotted this shirt:
Given that my son loves this:
and even insisted his dad wear these:
I knew this was a required purchase. My son was over the moon at this shirt.
As I approached the register, my son, excitedly said, “Look who’s here mommy!” and pointed. “What the what?!” I was confused and floored by his use of language, that he noticed someone, and pointed him out to me! So confused that I did not understand what he was doing at first.
He was pointing to his long time bud, “B”. “B” was playing in a kid’s area on the floor in the store where we were located. My son, the same one who had to be prompted to say hello to a classmate less than 24 hours before, saw “B” and pointed him out to me. “Go play with “B””, I said to him. Inside, I was so excited. How could this happen?
The boys had little to play with. They were both too old for the play area which was really designed more for toddlers than for boys their age. Nevertheless, they were happy to see each other and proceeded to try and take the one toy car in the play area away from each other, smiling the whole while.
I was just excited that my son was “with me” instead of in his own world, and recognized his friend. His friend was happy to see him, and that they spent that couple of minutes smiling in each other’s company.
As I reflected back on the clear contrast between the two encounters, I tried to figure out why one was embraced by my son and the other rejected. I felt like I knew almost instantly, the moment I thought about it.
First, “P” is older. From what I knew of “P” from the tutors and the other moms at the school, “P” had said some ‘not nice’ things about my son when they first met to other kids in Tootles’ class. As the other kids in Tootles’ class knew Tootles from kindergarten and love him, they all let “P” know in uncertain terms that Tootles was their priority and they were not accepting any mean things said about him. From that time on, “P” made extra efforts to play with Tootles, to be kind to him and not say anything further about Tootles’ differences.
That alone was awesome. From that time to the end of summer camp, “P” asked to play with Tootles lots of times, but Tootles never spoke of “P”. The only time I heard about “P” was from the tutors or the moms.
On the other hand, Tootles has known “B” since they were babies. They have attended each others’ birthday parties, trick or treated together and played together (although very sporadically) through many years. “B” doesn’t say much. Tootles doesn’t say much. They do more parallel play than any other kind of play, but they have always been there for each other. True friends.
So when Tootles ignored “P” in the mall? Maybe he was ignoring “P” in the mall. For good reason, not because of autism or lack of facial recognition. But because, well, Tootles is polite. If he’s got nothing good to say, he will ignore. He will put up a wall. He won’t “bad talk”. He won’t “tattle”. He just makes you an outsider.
But if he loves you? He will seek you out. He will give you a big smile. And then he’ll fight you to play with that toy car. Cuz after all, what’s a little fight for a car, among real friends?