In the world of special needs.. staring is a given. Sometimes they are glances, while other times they pierce your patience like laser beams.
Tonight Eric and I visited one of his favorites… Crust Pizza. I dared to get my own cheesy bread, which around Eric means.. I got HIM cheesy bread. He loves it here. The high ceilings, the acoustics. While noises can bother him when pitched alone, in a place like this the buzz blends it all together and he finds his happy place.
It’s been a long workweek and it’s just what I needed. Based on his unbridled laughs at seemingly nothing as we sat… I know he needed it too. Just the two of us to enjoy the incomparable peace of not talking and some good pizza. It’s one of the blessings that’s disguised when words cannot be formed… you learn to appreciate the quiet and unspoken connection you have with others.
The night was perfect. Low key. An unwind. But there it was.. the stare. At first I caught it in a glimpse. I noticed a man just a table across staring blankly at Eric. It held. He gazed. I wasn’t sure if he had too much wine or was just.. well.. a jerk.
I kept on, sipping my wine and burying my stress under the 4000 carbs on my plate. Eric, continuing his giggling… just kept on. People staring doesn’t phase him. So why should it phase me?
The man was with 3 other adults.. likely his wife maybe a brother and I think his father. There was a little boy with them too. Which made it all the more odd.. that he just KEPT STARING.
I indulged it by giving Eric a tickle and making him laugh even more. I thought surely… this big of a scene no one would just keep staring.. but silly me.. he sure did.
He must be drunk. No way someone would be this obvious in a sober state. What. The. Hell.
Eric made his way over for a drink refill and I watched on. The mans eyes still locked on him. Watching every move like he was an alien that he just couldn’t believe. His expression never changed. I’m not sure he even blinked.
Whatever. Not the first time and I know it won’t be the last.
I started to feel myself getting angry. Who doesn’t know what Autism is anymore? Good God really??!! I mean sure.. don’t care about how that might make me feel.. just keep staring.
And then there it was.
In the near precipice of my patience.. the sweet little boy at the table looked up from his iPhone. He shrieked for a moment and began to flap his hands and wriggle in his chair. He, was severely Autistic. The picture became so clear… my mounting anger turning to compassion and love before I could even put down my drink.
The man at the table, I knew then was the boys father. To think… this man… staring at Eric wondering if one day that would be his boy.. if his son would ever talk or sit and have dinner with him. This preview of life basking in him sitting bewildered not knowing what to do. My heart.. was with him.
I remember when Eric was younger seeing others on the spectrum and doing the same thing. You can’t help it.. so much unknown you grasp at any commonality you may see. The peace of seeing, hearing and studying an older child like yours as there are so few you naturally meet.
We continued with our meal and I did my best to normalize everything for him.. to lend him some hope. I prompted Eric to say the few words he has like “all done” and “tickle”. In an unsaid way, I wanted him To know that he’s not alone and that it all will be ok.
I think the biggest fear for parents of Autistic children is the unknown. There are so many different shades of Autism you just don’t really know until you know. How do you plan? Will they work? Will they ever live alone? Will they ever speak? The cascade of questions seems never ending and at some point you just have to come to accept… that you may never get an answer.
The waiter came by and started clearing their plates away. Everyone else at the table engaged, handing their plates over and thanking him. But the man,.. was still deep in his own head. He was still staring and Eric and I am sure the emotions were consuming him. As the family stood up from the table.. still, he sat. When he finally realized it was time to go… he got up from his chair and started walking away. But before he walked out the door, again, he looked back.
I wish I would’ve said something to him. I would’ve told him that it will all be ok. That every child is so unique and no matter what challenges they have ahead.. all that matters is that you love them. That there can be so much beauty in Autism… and so much joy. But it’s hard to believe for some and I understand why. But what you choose to focus on, what you choose to worry about and what you choose to do about it… is on you. You can choose the upside.. or the down.
I hope all parents out there choose the upside… It comes with a much more beautiful view.
John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.
I, am a blessed woman. 💙