Every now and then, I realize that our society still has a long way to go in terms of dealing with the difference that is autism. I was at a party very recently, and we’d brought Nat, fresh from his Halloween dance with his basketball team and social group friends. He was dressed as James Bond/Tom Cruise and he looked fantastic. Ned and I went out to dinner with friends and then we picked Nat up from his party and took him to ours — a dance party with friends and neighbors.
Nat was in fine fettle. He stationed himself near the snack table, in the back room where Ned and I were mingling with old and new friends. Nat was flapping a bit, talking to himself in his own language, and smiling a lot. He loves parties.
I felt so proud of him, in his black tux and white bowtie and slicked-back hair. He was gorgeous. He was happy. And we didn’t even think for a moment that we had to look out for him in terms of “behaviors.” That’s how far he’s come. Not only does he “behave” himself at parties; he actually loves them.
Yet, still, a friend and neighbor came up to me and asked if Nat was “alright.” She is a lovely woman whom I’ve known for years, and so I was alert the moment she asked. I looked over at Nat who was doing his flappy happy thing. I said, “Yeah! He loves parties. Why?”
“Oh, well, he seemed kind of agitated before. Really agitated.”
I gestured at him with my head, saying, “Oh, like that? Shaking his hands, smiling?”
“No. He wasn’t smiling. I was worried. But if you tell me he’s fine, then I won’t be.”
I patted her arm and said, “He’s fine. He hasn’t been agitated around people in years.” But as I said it, my stomach turned a little. Not because I was remembering those days, but because I was explaining and reassuring someone about Nat. When here he was, in his element, at a dance party in his own home neighborhood, looking so happy and beautiful. And yet there is still this level of malaise others have around him, and even the most well-intentioned among us still have the power, unknowingly, to cause pain. We left shortly after, but not until I had a really good, bouncing dance with Nat.