What is missing in an autistic person that a normal person has?

Someone asked this question on a website for asking/answering any number of questions on any number of topics.  I responded by first saying, “In my case, a social life.”

To put it simply, I have a social disability. Unlike those around me, family and friends, I don’t like to be around people much.  If I am with one person discussing a topic that’s right up my alley, I am talking that other person’s poor leg off.  But add another person or more to the conversation and I go into silent mode.

It is well-documented those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (my nickname for it is “Billy”) are not likely to be the social bufferflies in their community. I could manage better than those I know of going days in solitary confinement without going mad. Torture for me would be in the midst of people, strangers or not, around the clock with no break of lone time.

I shutter at the word “group”. It can be followed by the words “meeting” or “social” or “gathering” and I will have the same reaction of a frown. It is similar to the reaction I have at the smell of turnips cooking, or the bass sound of a loud stereo, or the glare of the bright lights. I’d rather be far away on another galaxy than sitting inside at a group session pretending to listen while hoping someone will volunteer to be the first to announce their departure.

Now if I am at the podium doing the speaking, it’s a whole different story.  Even better, if I am talking about one of my passions.  Now why I hate being in the audience but thrilled to be the speaker, well, I haven’t figured that one out yet.

The British writer, Alis Rowe, frequently writes about autism. One of her quotes that hit close to my heart: “I can be talkative and expressive when with a single person, but the more people there are around me, the less interactive and more introverted I become. Inside a group of people, I can’t contribute/function, and tend to ‘shut down’ because I find it all too overwhelming.”

My ASD is a constant companion and there are times when it slaps me right in the face. At family gatherings or other group settings, I can’t be like the others. I can’t join in on their chatter and laughter and enjoy it as they do. For me, such gatherings are draining and that isn’t going to change. The mute button will always come on.  I can ask why I have to struggle with this but everybody has something to deal with.  It isn’t so much what it is but how we cope with it.  The Lord is the One whom I turn to.  He knows all about my Billy.

I take heart in the bright side of living on the Spectrum. My passion for writing helps me to communicate with people in my own special way. It isn’t all dark on the Spectrum. Not at all. No one has it all after all. I try to remember that and appreciate what I do have going for me with Billy around.

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My Friday the 13th Meltdown

My living on the Spectrum includes hearing some things more loudly, tasting some things differently, smelling some things more strongly, and feeling some things more strongly.

It was supposed to be an ordinary afternoon assignment subbing for a teacher’s aide in a special education pre-school class. It turned into an unordinary day with a few sentences. It is easy to remember the date because it was Friday, the 13th. I’m not superstitious or anything, but that Friday, the 13th, will go down as memorable because I spent the afternoon in meltdown country while trying to pretend I wasn’t in one.

While I was watching three of the seven students in the play section, I was told to put something away. I wasn’t yelled at, but it took me back in my mind to 1st grade when the teacher had me stand in a corner.  I imagine to a neurotypical, it would have been no big deal. Something that fell off one’s back.  I so wish it could have been that way for me, but living on the Spectrum includes feeling things strongly.

I felt a thrust of panic shoot through me landing in the pit of my stomach.  I can’t begin to guess how many times I’ve lived through similar experiences and it’s just as painful as it was when I was a child. I immediately responded in a socially acceptable way without showing any sign of my panic button going off. I didn’t want anyone to know I was falling in meltdown country.  I had a job to do and had to keep what was going on in my inner being a secret somehow.

Shortly thereafter, I was assigned to assist one of the students who was severely autistic. Try to imagine this picture: A 58-year-old woman with autism trying to calm down a 5-year-old child with autism while she is fighting back tears as she is melting down inside. It is sort of like the blind helping the blind.

The thinking part of my brain was telling me, “All you need to do from now on is…  It is no big deal, stop thinking about it, etc.”  That was logic talking and there’s nothing logical about my hypersensitivity.  There were no shortcuts. I had to weather through all the stages of fear, shame, guilt, and anger before I would ever feel any peace about it.

Then, it came time for gym class. The activity was video dances and the lights were out while the kids danced. Thanks to the lights being out, I was relieved of having to fight back the tears. I let them stream down my face. I wanted so much to retreat to a corner, rock myself silly, and cry my heart out.

One thing that replayed over in my mind was the school day would end and I could make my escape back to my safe place at home.  I had been looking forward to the weekend but I knew a cloud would hang over it by reliving the afternoon episode of my Friday, the 13th.

The tears had dried up by the next morning but there was anger brewing. I went to the tennis range and hit the ball against the wall. My game of tennis was off because I took my frustration out on the ball. I was whacking that ball as if I was hitting what brought on my meltdown. If the ball could have talked, it might have said, “Hey, I didn’t do anything!!!”

Prayer without ceasing was a constant as I weathered the turbulence. The Lord’s Spirit spoke to my heart that it will pass and I knew it would. A verse that came to mind was:

2 Samuel 22:29
You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.

I didn’t lose my sense of humor. No meltdown has ever taken that; at least, not yet. I chuckled at my thought that come the next Friday the 13th, I should spend it in hibernation.

I’m one of those on the Spectrum who takes a long time to get over even a small slight. I predict I will have a conversation a decade from now if I should live so long in the shower about what I might have done or said differently on that Friday the 13th.

Worry Offers Wrinkles, Lines, and no Solutions

In the Book of Matthew, 6:27 and Luke 12:25, Jesus asked which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to one’s span of life. I admit if my worrying could extend hours to my lifespan, my lifespan would be mighty stretched. Worrying is something I confess I do even though all it gives me is wrinkles, lines, and no solutions.

Worry is a sure sign I am failing in the “faith” department and accomplishing nothing. Someone named Van Wilder said that worrying is like a rocking chair. You can sit yourself down in that chair at sunrise and rock in that chair until the day is done. Come sundown, you’ll still be where you started. That’s as far a distance as worrying gets you too.

One of the hardships of living on the Autism Spectrum is anxiety. ( My own personal nickname for the Spectrum is “Billy”). Tony Attwood, a leading authority on Asperger Syndrome, sees those with highly-functioning Autism, or Asperger Syndrome, managing anxiety as a daily part of their lives. According to conservative estimates, 65% of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from anxiety and depression compared to 18% of the general population. I’m one of those in the 65% who takes medication for it.

A popular prayer that often comes to my mind is about accepting the things one can’t change, the courage to change the things one can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I can’t change having Billy around and the baggage that comes with him. He can be good to have around but sometimes, I wish I could divorce him. For instance, I can’t shoo away meltdowns. I can’t wish away anxiety pangs that have no rhyme or reason to them. Fortunately, since taking my medication, such pangs are fewer and sleep isn’t a challenge as it used to be. I can’t rewire my brain to turn into an extrovert and thrive on being around people rather than thriving on being alone. I can’t help it that I can’t process verbal instruction as fast as others. I can’t help it that a change in routine puts me in a tailspin. I can’t help it that I need to pace the floor and retreat to my fantasy world to cope with a world I don’t understand.

Prayer is always a good place to start with the coping process. That’s at the top of the list of tools to knock off worry. Take meltdowns, for instance. When one comes, I can do something about it such as finding an area of refuge, stim as much as I need to (pace, jog, rock, etc.), with a prayer on my lips. I can’t prevent their coming, but I can choose to prayerfully weather them through and not to worry about when the next one is coming.

In my better moments of thinking, I see Billy as a daily opportunity to live my faith. He is something I either can choose to worry about or not. Worrying won’t make Billy go away any more than not worrying will either. But I’ll have more peace of mind and more fun by not. Even better, I’ll be living my faith in the Lord which has the added advantage of having a closer walk with Him.

 

Just a Little Talk

I have a relative who has to wear a heart monitor. She has to wear it until her heart’s beat gets back up to speed. Her sister suggested a nickname for the monitor that did its job but was a nuisance to put on, wear, and take off. She adopted the nickname and called her monitor “PITA”. It stands for pain in the … you know where. She is looking forward to the day when the doctor will relieve her of her “PITA”.
I understand giving a temporary or constant companion a nickname. I gave my car, a Toyota Prius, the nickname of “Pree”. I recall after buying a brand new Prius, a guy made fun of my giving my new set of wheels a nickname. I suspect he was just jealous of my Pree. Most of the time Pree is in my good graces. I particularly am grateful to her for correcting my mistakes when I am off in my own world. Such as she will beep when I try to lock her car door while she is still running.
Months after being formally introduced to my constant companion of my autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I gave it the name of Billy. It may sound strange but by giving it a name helped me feel as if I had just a tad more control of it. Whenever my ASD slaps me in the face with its sometimes overwhelming presence, I just say to myself, “It’s just Billy.”
One of those slaps was when I was in a small group gathering. What is small to me? Three or more people. I went off to my corner and did my own thing. Then, a few unexpected guests arrived, one of whom was a sight for sore eyes. I seldom get to see this young man who is a gentle soul. He’s one of the few men I know I gladly accept a hug from.
They all went to the table to another room to chat but he came back out and asked me how my job was going. That’s all it took to get me to talk. I entertained him with a couple of my school job’s “out of the mouth of babes” tales. I did what I seldom do and told him about my gadgets (home assistant speakers): Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Google Home. If he thought it was obsessive for having three, he didn’t show it. If he was bored with my monolog, he didn’t act like it with his questions. I just might have sold him on the idea of having one himself, but just one. I’m the one with the gadget obsession.
He was called back to join the gang. I had just a short one-on-one with him but those few minutes were precious. I had no desire whatsoever to join the group, but it was a pleasure for me to have just a little talk with one of the sweetest young men I know.

The Mute Button

The British writer, Alis Rowe, frequently writes about autism. One of her quotes that hit close to my heart: “I can be talkative and expressive when with a single person, but the more people there are around me, the less interactive and more introverted I become. Inside a group of people, I can’t contribute/function, and tend to ‘shut down’ because I find it all too overwhelming.”

I lived that quote during a recent episode where I was in a group setting in a hospital waiting room.  I had been in hospital waiting rooms before but it was the first time since learning I had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). One thing I did differently with the knowledge of my diagnosis was preparing for this gathering.  I had my fidget toys like my spinner and cube. I had my smart phone with its many apps. I had no idea how long I would be there and if it went longer than expected, I had my comfort toys with me.

The group consisted of mostly people I knew but there was a dozen of those I hadn’t met before. My typical role in gatherings of three or more is to be the “silent” one. It doesn’t matter if I have known them most of my life or it is my first time to meet them.  As soon as I arrived, there were almost a half a dozen people already there.  Although I knew them, I immediately went silent.  It is as if a mute button is attached to me and it always comes on by itself when I’m in a gathering of three or more.

As more came in, the social chatter and laughter picked up, but I wasn’t a happy camper. None of my topics of interests came up. Except for the one I came with, no one hardly spoke to me beyond the “hello, nice to meet you, or how you are doing, or nice to see you.” I guess maybe I send out “don’t speak to me” vibes without putting effort into it. On the other hand, I was fine with just the greetings. I secretly feared someone might ask me a question I couldn’t or didn’t want to answer.

That old lonely feeling of being an alien from another planet came back.  I wanted to “stim” to soothe and comfort myself since I felt like a tea kettle about to boil over.  I got out my smart phone and tuned into my favorite apps.  I was the only one with ear plugs in their ears.  I know it gave off the impression of aloofness but unknown to them, I was in survival mode.

The apps were not enough to soothe the “pain” I cannot describe.  I whispered to the one I came with that I was going to take a walk. I used the excuse I wanted to stretch and exercise. Well, that was partly true, but it was far less about exercise for my body and more for my mental state. When I walked outside, I took a deep breath. It was like I had been drowning and managed to come up for air.

I started off my walk with tears rolling down my eyes. If I had let myself, I could have cried like a baby. I didn’t know why at first. I just was overwhelmed with sadness. After a few laps, the tears dried up. My batteries were recharged as they always are after a walk by myself.

When I returned, I saw another person had joined the gathering. The person wasn’t someone I was close to, but he was a sight for sore eyes. I knew he had ASD too! I made a beeline to sit next to him. We exchanged few words and that was okay. It was just having someone else besides me on the Spectrum there. One in a crowd is tough, but two in a crowd is less so.

I think I know why the tears. My ASD is a constant companion and there are times when it slaps me right in the face. This was one of those times when it let me know it is there and it isn’t going to leave my side. There is no cure for ASD. I can’t be like the others. I can’t join in on their chatter and laughter and enjoy it as they do. For me, such gatherings are draining and that isn’t going to change. The mute button will always come on.

Not wanting to end on a sad note, there was a moment during the gathering of an example of how I copy others’ behavior in social gatherings.  It was an eye opener because I didn’t realize until after learning about my ASD and being in group settings that some social actions don’t come as natural to me as it does to others.

The room was big but low on chairs.  When others entered the room where we were, the one I came with stood up, shook hands, and offered her chair.  I first thought, “You mean I have to stand up?”  If I had been the only one there, I wouldn’t have stood up.  I would have thought, “Hello…” was sufficient.  Offer my chair?  I didn’t do that part at all.  It wasn’t until after I got back home that I thought maybe I goofed on that one.  You see, I was operating on the rule of “first come, first serve”.

Within Boundaries

A British writer who writes about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Alis Rowe, wrote “I gain a lot of comfort from people who do not expect more time/interaction/activity from me than I can give, i.e. they are able to understand and appreciate that there will be ‘boundaries’ in our relationship and are flexible to be OK with that.'” Those of us who have ASD and have such a flexible friend(s) are blessed indeed!

I was once asked in a psychological test what I picture myself as being in one word. I didn’t have to ponder long on that question. The word “observer” instantly popped up. I see myself looking out the window and just doing that — observing. Sometimes I do that at the shopping mall. Sit down to get a load off and to observe the passersby. Come to think of it, with what I see at the mall, it’s sort of like watching a reality TV show parade.

As an observer, I am mystified by those who socialize and enjoy it. The “enjoying” part is the mystery.  I wonder what’s so fun about it when I want to go off by myself and solve a jigsaw puzzle or something. I hear of planning get-together events and I shudder at the thought of an invitation. I know to a neurotypical (NT) that sounds so … what’s the word … I don’t know. But whatever the word, it’s not flattering.

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t secretly desire to live on a deserted island even though I may appear to behave like I do. Even I admit to a need to interact with people. I actually enjoy conversations ever now and then. But like Alis’s quote, on a limited scale. Such as I have a weekly conversation with someone who shares my interest in politics. With all that’s going on in Washington, we haven’t run out of gas yet on that topic. I get rather loud at times on my soapbox and repeat myself but the person doesn’t complain, not yet anyway.

My best way of interacting with my fellow man was, is, and will continue to be writing. I can write down my thoughts, edit them with countless drafts, and when ready to ship, I hit the SEND button. I can’t edit or delete what I say on the phone or in person. It is so frustrating and beyond my ability to stop replaying conversations of yesterday or 30 years ago with words I wish I had said or had not said at all.

Another Alis Rowe quote: What people don’t get is that, even if it doesn’t show, autism is a massive, massive part of me and it leaves me with a lot of reasons (not excuses) for almost everything I do, or do not experience.  Autism is the reason I am mostly content doing things that don’t involve other people. It’s not an excuse; it’s just an explanation.

Even within my boundaries, I still want to have a part in having an impact beyond my boundaries.  That’s why I blog.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rulebook

A challenge for me to deal with living on the Spectrum is dealing with those around me who are lax when it comes to rules.  I am a firm believer in holding fast to rules instead of breaking them.  Thus, I sometimes run smack dab into meltdown country when engaged with those of my fellow kindred who think of rules as guidelines.

An example is if I ever have to give a briefing and it is only to be 15 minutes long.  I will not run over 15 minutes if that long.  If I am having to listen to someone speaking and their speech is supposed to be over at a certain time and that time has passed, I will feel like I have ants in my pants.

Librarians can relate to this story about borrowers who don’t observe the rule of “date due”. Years ago, I had a library job where I was in charge of borrowing and returning books received on loan from other libraries around the country. I hated this job with a passion! In retrospect after my diagnosis late last year, I can clearly see how my autism spectrum disorder (ASD) had a lot to do with the job being a bad fit.  It required more social interaction than my previous library catalog officer position which fit me as comfortable as an old shoe. The other drawback was I couldn’t return a book until the borrower returned it to the library.

Most borrowers did abide by the due date, but there were a few who consistently returned books late. I wonder if late borrowers look upon “due dates” as mere suggestions. Every episode of having to wait for an overdue book to be returned was emotionally draining. I could not relate because the only reason I wouldn’t return something before its due date would be if I was in a coma. Okay, I’m exaggerating but not by much.

My rule-thinking does not turn off when I go shopping. For instance, I take a sign on an express lane, such as “15 items or less”, LITERALLY! I am a frequent express lane shopper since it is my routine not to shop with a need of a cart.  If I were a full-cart shopper, one wouldn’t catch me in an express line unless I genuinely didn’t realize I was in one. I am not a happy camper standing in a line behind the person(s) who can’t count or doesn’t take 15 literally (16, 17, 18, items are okay).

Behind the wheel, I can’t say I’m always at or under the speed limit. I just can’t watch the speedometer like a hawk. My ASD doesn’t help make me a prime candidate for best driver on the road either.  It’s always a challenge having to do multiple tasks at a time and to be quick on my feet as you sometimes have to be for road survival.  But most rules on the road I follow. Such as I move over well in advance to make my exit off the highway.  Even if I have to sit in a long line waiting to exit, I will take my place and wait it out too. If I am in the other lane where traffic is backed up because there is a driver(s) trying to merge over at the last minute instead of taking their turn in the long line of traffic waiting to exit, I am in meltdown country taking it out on my steering wheel and floorboard!

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to take rules less literally. I don’t mean turning into an anarchist, but to not be a stickler on every rule I cross paths with.  Such as turning a library book in one day late and see if anything horrific happens.  Or clocking in at work, on purpose, one minute late to see if I turn into a pumpkin or not.  I’m being sarcastic.  The truth is I can only wonder since it just isn’t in my brain’s wiring to thumb my nose at the rulebook.

Oh, Mom, Do I Have to?

A seemingly simple errand can present speed bumps on the Autism Spectrum. The other day my Mom sent me on an errand to pick up some items at the grocery store. Her list was short but heavy. Three cartons of bottled water, 24 bottles each, is not for sissies to pick up. I didn’t mind since it fit into my “daily step” count on my “Fitbit”. It’s become an obsession to meet my daily goal. By just unloading the water, I got around 500 steps in.

Handling the heavy water load was a breeze compared to taking care of a mere pound of ground beef. Why? I had to go to the meat counter and request a pound from a total stranger known as a butcher. As soon as I walked into the store, I headed for the meat department to get it over with to relieve the tension I had since I left the house. When the butcher gave me the wrapped pound of beef with a “have a nice day” greeting, my anxiety took a hike and I could breathe easy-like.

When I lived by myself for over 20 years, I don’t recall ever making a grocery store trip that included a stop at where the butchers hang out. I didn’t have a desire to learn how to cook what the butcher had to offer but if I had, I still probably would have been reluctant because it would require social interaction.

This is just one example of a puddle in my daily life of living on the Spectrum.

The Can Opener Challenge

It isn’t always the big battles on the Spectrum; it’s the little ones too.  The little ones are bigger at the time than they are in hindsight.  It is in hindsight I can write about them and have a chuckle or two.  If I can laugh about any battle, it hasn’t defeated me.

A little one started when my Mom interrupted my blog-writing asking me to open a can for her.  I’m not complaining about that.  It just throws me for a bit to pause when I’m creating a masterpiece.  Arthur (arthritis) makes opening a can with a manual can opener a painful proposition.  I figure I better have empathy since Arthur probably already has his eyes set on me in the near future.  I come from a long family tree of Arthur’s victims.

This made me think of a battery-operated can opener I had seen at a store having a 20% off sale the very same day.  Since I was planning on going anyway, barring a large crowd, I made note of it to look for one.  With a small showing of customers at the time I entered the store,  I went ahead and bought a red Handy-Dandy battery-operated can opener, one of those As See on TV products.  Besides my Mom needing one, I am attracted to a battery or electric gadget like a coin is to a magnet.

I took it out of the package in my bedroom to get the gadget up and running without my Mom knowing a thing.  I wanted to surprise her by doing a “show and tell”.  That was a good plan but that’s not how it went down.  After installing two “AA” batteries, I pushed the button and not a sound was heard.  I tried placing it on a can in case the opener wouldn’t work without having something to spin on.  That’ didn’t work.  I was so frustrated!  I don’t give in to defeat easily when it comes to gadgets.  I am the “gadget queen” in my clan.  After numerous efforts, this “queen” eventually came to the conclusion it was a “lemon” can opener.

I didn’t ask for this battle, but it fell in my lap and I saw it as having two choices.  I could toss it and try to forget it; or, I could take it back to the store for an exchange/refund.  My Mom would have taken it back to the store without any hesitation whatsoever.  Me?  Just the opposite.  I have a phobia of customer service desks.  My first inclination was to do to the malfunctioned opener what I do with party invitations:  toss out!

The price receipt, though, kept staring at me.   Guilt is another biggie of mine.  I came up with an idea to ease my guilty conscience.  I’d put it back in the store bag, go back to the store, and if there was a store clerk who seemed friendly enough, I would ask to exchange it.  I didn’t want a refund because I wasn’t ready to give up on presenting my Mom with a can opener that would defy her nemesis, Arthur.

I’m proud to say I got up the nerve to approach the customer service desk and asked for an exchange.  She took the lemon and dropped the exchange item in a bag with a “have a good day”.  I could breathe easy now as I walked out the store after my victory of facing the exchange challenge.  I know such transactions come easy for a lot of folks, but not for me.

It was back to the drawing board.  The only difference was it was black instead of red.  I wish I could say that after the battery installation, the handy-dandy opener came to life.  But that’s not how it went down.  It wasn’t making a sound either.  After repeating what I did hours earlier with the red “lemon” one, I re-dressed it back into its package.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to return to the store or not.  Two customer service interactions in one day — there’s only so much I can take!

It was aggravating I couldn’t get a gadget to work.  I can’t thread a needle, but I know my way around setting up a smart phone, smart watch, etc.  I had to try one more time to save my reputation for gadget-fixing.  I used a can of chili as my guinea pig.  Just as I was about to take my finger off the start button and give in to defeat, the opener came to life.  It started its journey around the can lid while I watched in amazement.

This was supposed to be the end of the story.  Nope!  A few weeks later, the black handy-dandy opener met its fate of a trash can after opening a can of green beans.  It did a spin around the lid of the can.  The problem was it wouldn’t let go of the lid.  They were inseparable!  I did manage to free the green beans but I had to toss the can opener with the can still in its mouth.

Now, most people would have given up by now.  But I don’t give up easily.  I wasn’t about to be outdone by any kind of gadget.  I received a 20% off e-mail from a store and I saw this as a sign to go ahead and purchase No. 3.  I’m thrilled to say the third one was the charm.  As for what my Mom does when she needs a can opener, she still hollers for me and I do the honors.

 

 

 

 

He is Autistic

I am a frequent Dollar Store shopper.  The check-out lines are sometimes too long for my liking but I admit three or more people ahead of me is what I consider a long line.  I reckon it all depends on your point of view as to what “long” or “short” is.

On one of my shopping trips as I approached the check-out line, I was relieved there was just two ahead of me.  The store manager was manning the register.  He was checking out a red-headed freckled-faced boy who was grinning from ear to ear.  I’m guessing maybe 10-years-old.  The youngster had his dollar bills ready and gave to the manager.  I had my head down when I heard the manager say in a stern voice, “What are you doing?”

I did not see what happened but I saw the boy’s hands near the gadget customers use to purchase with a credit/debit card.  He was probably playing with the buttons.  There was what seemed like a long pause and a red-headed slim woman came up who was probably the boy’s mother.  She just said to the manager two words, “He’s autistic.”

I felt like an arrow hit my heart since I’m on the Spectrum, too.  The manager maybe felt an arrow in his heart, too, because he said in a softer tone, “Oh, okay.”  Nothing more was said.

The boy reminded me of the students I work with as a substitute teacher’s aide.  It is rewarding to work with students like this boy.  It is sad, though, to hear of “shopping tales” that are such a nightmare that parents/caretakers are reluctant or give up taking their child with them shopping.

The incident replayed in my mind over and over for the remainder of the day and into the night.  It took me back to my childhood when a 7-11 store manager was correcting me for something I had no idea was wrong.  His stern warning left such a mark on me that I still remember it a half a century later.

I watched them walk out of the store.  I dare say it wasn’t the first time she had to tell a stranger, “he’s autistic”.  It probably won’t be the last either.  Perhaps she had left her boy at the counter to see if he could handle paying for something all by himself.  He did fine except for the last part.  He just needs more practice, that’s all.

The boy didn’t drop his smile the entire time.  He seemed oblivious to what had happened.  I hope he has no memory of it.  But I’m sure his mother did not get off so easy.  She was the one who took the hit.