Sunday, January 11, 2015

To the Kid I Saw at Target Yesterday

I have written before about my eleven year old, autistic son. He is non-verbal and contorts his body to gain sensory perception. I sometimes imagine this as a possible superpower. We take for granted the way we see, hear and sense of world. How does my son perceive it? Does he see different images or hear subtle tones that give him special insight the rest of us, ingrained in our "normal" cannot perceive?

This set of behaviors is exaggerated when he is out in public, experiencing new smells, sounds and sights. He is always game for trips like our weekly sojourn to the grocery store, or another of his favorites, Target. In these familiar places his behaviors are at their autistic zenith. New experiences are at the ready for him while safely in the care of people he trusts. It is like a perception amusement park. He contorts, jumps and claps throughout.

Yesterday we traveled to our local Target store to pick up a prescription and sundry odds and ends. While at check-out I spied a kid, a boy, around my son's age. He had red hair, was in athletic shorts and long sleeves. His mother had a matching shirt. They may have stopped by Target after some kind of athletic practice or game.

"The Stare" as I call it is not a new phenomenon, and a phenomenon I understand.

This week, however, has been different. A week of stress, demands and deadlines. And this kid was really staring. Not the usual discreet stare, which can come in several variants, I mean the big, constant stare.

The kid's mother was busy checking out. They were situated at a cashier station ahead of us in the configuration of the stations at this particular Target store. So when the boy continued to stare at my son's odd, twisted upside down pose, I stared back at him. The kid did not look at me. I turned forward to check the progress of the cashier in completing our little transaction, then turned back around to check the progress of my contorted son and his starer.

Still staring.

 Again I stared right at the boy. He looked up at me, realizing for the first time I was staring at him stare at my son. I am not sure what I expected, really. Embarrassment at being caught staring at a child with limitations? Perhaps a quick look away, retreating to the safety of his busy mother? An apology?

Nope. Instead the boy never missed a beat. He looked at me, held up his right hand in a wave and mouthed one word: "Hi". Who was embarrassed now? My left hand on my contorted son, I raised my right hand and said hello right back.

John Patrick Shaney offered up a pithy tweet (Thank you Mary Karr!) this morning, saying it better than I ever could:
Epiphanies, even rough ones, always make life better. It is illusion that causes the most pain. 
 The kid was curious, that is all. He was not being malicious in any sense in the word. I was hoping to teach the kid not to stare, right? Why? Instead I was the one who received the lesson: I need to worry more about my sensory perception. Curiosity is a good thing. Especially in the young. I can still learn.

Good luck and Godspeed, young man.

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