Something has been happening on the walk home from school recently. Something, perhaps, even beautiful. There is an apartment complex with one of those cool "walk-up" entrances (cool to the boy at least). It's become routine for Jack to check that gate every day. Annoying, but harmless, so I concede. About two weeks ago, something changed about those stairs and that gate.
There were people sitting on them.
So, Jack told them to move (of course he did), and "Jennifer" asked if she could have a hug before she moved. My little sensory-seeker happily obliged. Jennifer squeezed him tightly and kissed him for a minute, telling her how much she loved him. Jack couldn't have loved it more. After a minute, "Linda", the other adult, said "it was time to let him go". Jennifer is a developmentally disabled adult. Linda is her nurse/therapist/aide. So Jack hugged her good-bye and we hurried home, smiles on both of our faces.
Over the next week, Jennifer was there every day after school. She often has her alphabet flash cards that she shares with Jack. She's insistent that Jack learn the Spanish words for "car, umbrella, ice cream, and apple". She lauds his intellect and smothers him with attention.
A few days ago, Linda (the nurse) simply blurted something out in Spanish (I speak Spanish). "Su hijo es diferente, no"?
And that question floated in the air unanswered for a moment.
I did my best to explain that Jack is autistic in Spanish. She is an aide or a nurse or some sort of caretaker, so she already knew. Linda went on about how smart he was, how cute he was, and all the usual nice things we say. She said he must have a lot of friends. He does, but not really at school. Everyone is nice to him, but he doesn't reach out to his peers much (he's doing better, but that's a different post).
Jennifer (who I didn't realize was listening to us, or spoke Spanish for that matter), chimed in that Jack could be her friend. She said she loved him. Jack had been showing Jennifer the latest homes for sale in the newest edition of the "Call Maya" Real Estate ad from the corner rack, and he asked "why"?
And then Jennifer answered.
"Because I love kids. You're fun. All the other kids are scared of me. When I was three I got hit by a car and it made me kind of dumb. The other kids run away from me."
Again there was silence for a moment.
Jack pointed to an ad in his magazine and said "this says In Escrow".
And her disability was never mentioned again. And I was touched. For two reasons. First, Jack didn't notice or care about her disability. He doesn't see it. He doesn't fear it. He just likes the friend.
In a bigger picture, however, I got to thinking about Jennifer. There are several great autistic adult writers/bloggers/advocates out there. How often do we listen? Jennifer told me her story, and it was tragic. It was hers, though. How often do we listen to grocery store clerk in her thirties that works hard, rarely smiles, avoids eye-contact, and clutches her "Hello Kitty" backpack. What's her story? Or the young man that my wife insists is extremely handsome that we've never heard speak a word. What's his story?
I think it's time to ask.
I am embarrassed that I never have. I have always been overly nice and patient with developmentally disabled children and adults... even more so since my son was diagnosed.
But it took a six year-old to teach me to listen.
And listen we should. You might just discover something beautiful.