A thank-you for my son with autism to kind strangers
One day during my recent vacation I took my son Atticus to the Turtle Back Zoo. In addition to seeing lots of animals, he got to feed goats by hand (all the while squealing with delight and yelling, "Eat! Eat! Eat!"), touch a stingray in the touch tank, and thanks to some incredibly kind strangers, ride a pony for the first time.
At less than three years old, he fell in the height range allowed but of course his being on the spectrum I wasn't sure what to expect. Would his sensory issues make him uncomfortable? Would he start thrashing and tumble off if the ride workers weren't very experienced with the sudden moves of a child with autism? But we went for it, because they say horseback riding is very helpful for kids with autism and if we eventually get him involved in that this would be a good first step.
Imagine my worry when we got in line and I saw that there were at least 15 kids ahead of us. This would mean at least a 20 minute wait. No big deal for a neurotypical child, but for a child on the spectrum it can be extremely difficult to have the self-control to manage waiting this long. I honestly didn't know if he'd make it through the wait period.
Then a ridiculous thing happened that upset him so much I was certain he'd never last the line. Somehow, in something straight out of a sitcom, he managed to get his knee stuck in the fence. It was a metal fence with black vertical bars and his knee managed to fit perfectly in but suddenly would not come out. Once he realized this he began fussing and that soon turned into a semi-meltdown. His ABA therapist and I tried to free it, and as Atti's panic grew louder one of the pony ride workers noticed and came over. I was now picturing grease and firemen and jaws of life and him becoming some wacky news item. She tried to help, and even with the three of us it still took another minute before we were able to free his leg.
At this point he was understandably crying hard, and I looked again at the long line thinking, "That's it, no way he can wait now." I told the woman thank you, then explained he had autism and after this happening with his difficulty with control I didn't think he'd be able to wait. I was wondering if by any million to one shot they had a third pony and an extra worker they might be able to bring out, pretty much knowing the answer would be no.
Then something happened that I will carry with me forever.
The people in front of us overheard the whole thing, and they told us to please go in front of them. I thanked them and said I didn't really want to cut the line; I was more thinking of a different solution. They insisted, and so did the mom in front of them, then the dad in front of that mom, all with understanding, pleasant smiles and kind souls. The people in this line kept this going, as one person who heard told the two in front until it got up to the last few moms who were Muslim. I asked no one to go in front of them, they just all quickly insisted and ushered us ahead. I wasn't expecting the moms in the hijabs to offer simply because I had the awkward thought they may not speak fluent English; I was more than happy to be just fourth back. Then I felt stupid for even having that thought as they turned to me and in perfect English and with the sweetest attitudes offered my autistic son to go straight to the front of the line.
I will never know who all these people were. I will never know their names. I hope some of them see this. For if they do, I want them each to know in that moment, on that day, they were the absolute most beautiful people on planet Earth. My problems with my son are not their problems. I didn't want to inconvenience anybody. My burdens are my own. Yet here they saw a little boy and an opportunity they were kind enough to want him to have, and they all graciously insisted. This moment was so special to me it's one of the things I want to think about when I close my eyes for the final time.
Thank you. You made a little boy's day better who really needed a good day. You made a father's eyes well up. You reminded me that most people are mostly good. When he's old enough to understand and the therapies have brought him along, I will tell my son this story and make sure he pays it forward.
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