Autistic kids can be repetitive, loud, they can make crazy noises or hum for hours on end. There can be never-ending questions (OMG the questions), flapping, balking, beeping and “mom mom mom mom mom…” We’re being honest here, right? It can be ANNOYING.
Recently, I have read a few stories of people getting past some of these behaviors, and going out of their way for autistic kids and their parents. I love these stories. I love them because, duh, my son is autistic, but also because they are a reminder of how seemingly small gestures of compassion often mean the world to the recipient. Really, they mean the world.
But …. sometimes these kids are aggressive and impulsive. And there are rarely feel good stories about this. It’s hard to ask people to bring some kindness to the table when your kid just threw the table across the room. My kid is sometimes a table thrower.
And yet….I have a story.
Hi New Neighbor.
You had me at hello. You actually had me before hello. When I learned that the person who bought the house next to ours had two adopted kids, my stomach did a flip-flop. Kids? Adopted? You live in our world, I thought. I did a bit of a jig. Like Riverdance.
Fast forward a few months. You didn’t move in right away, and I, uhh, forgot about you. (I met your painters, however, and they were lovely.) I figured you’d move in, and I would deliver some baked goods in a cute basket. Like Brie Van De Kamp from Desperate Housewives. Because it would be a really, really cute basket, you would know I was a great neighbor, and we would totally exchange house keys. We would bond about adopting kids, and I would tell you that my son is charming and goofy and amazing. And that he is autistic. I’m a girl who likes a plan, and this was a good plan. I stored it away until you moved in.
Life went on. Halloween showed up, and as big occasions tend to go, my firefighter child was solidly planted on the side of over-excited. We were alternating between calming my son, getting dinner ready and setting up the front porch. The door bell rang! Trick-or-Treater number one! And we realized, too late, that the front door was wide open.
My son ran out the door, and was no longer a firefighter, but a fire-breathing dragon. With arms out and head forward, my son ran out the door at full speed and breathed fire (yelled loudly) into the face of the toddler who was standing with his family on our porch. We heard the toddler cry before we even caught up.
Ohhhh and, of course, the parent to this toddler? You, our new neighbor. You were gracious. You let us apologize, you even brushed off the necessity of the apology (while holding your screaming toddler). You gave us a cute Halloween card introducing yourself to the ‘hood. After all hope vanished that my house would swallow me whole, I introduced us. My original plan was a #fail, but all was well. In the coming weeks, our kids played together a bit, and you and I chatted in the brief, random snippets that only moms who are also watching their kids can do.
And then –
My son and one of his favorite therapists took a walk on a Saturday. You were in your front yard on the phone. I am sure you waved. As they walked by, my son took the ball that was in his hand, and threw it at you. Impulsive and quick. And it hit you. One thing my son has down is how to throw a ball with some force.
I knew you were ok (ish), but I was mortified. Mortified and, honestly, just plain defeated. My son wrote you a note and we taped it to your door. He was truly and tearfully sorry. I was truly and tearfully sorry. And at that point, my plan of being Brie Van de Kamp disintegrated into a vision of polite waving, occasional conversations about the weather… and your understandable hesitancy to be anywhere near my son.
Later that day, we heard someone drop something off at our doorstep. It was not a lawsuit. It was a grocery bag full of fresh oranges and a letter.
My son nailed you with a ball, and in response, you picked us some oranges and wrote a note that I will keep forever. Not just because the note is touching (which it is), but because it will remind me about the importance, the impact, of small kindnesses.
Dear neighbor, this small gesture of yours, this “hey, I am not afraid of your kid” note, took me from despondent to grateful to hopeful. It was not a small gesture to me. Thank you.