I Don’t Always Need To Have Teachable Autism Moments

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I moved into this new place back in January and, since then, I like all the neighbors I’ve met. People are nice and the pleasantries are pleasant. Throughout life, with a few pretty memorable exceptions, I’ve always gotten along with neighbors.

Of course, that’s easy when a lot of your interactions with those surrounding your home are limited to waves from across the street. I see them bringing in their groceries or checking the mail and toss up a stiff arm wave. I’m like Nixon boarding the plane or Carson before the monologue or some other reference from before I was born. Long distance waves make everyone seem friendlier.

I guess I could bring over a casserole, but I’m not really a casserole-bringing guy. Plus, I’m the new one. They should be bringing me casseroles, right? I just realized that. Where are my casseroles?

I did, however, meet one neighbor almost immediately. Susan seemed a bit on edge, but was friendly enough during our brief interaction. In the short time we spoke, she exposed some “nasty people” who live around here and how the neighborhood committee has their nose all up in our gardening business. Why shouldn’t we plant whatever we want wherever we want? Huh? Susan raised some good points. I made a note to stay off her bad side.

We only crossed paths on that one occasion prior to late-May. That next time was on my daughter’s birthday and the day was really off-schedule. There was a lot of running from one place to the next until everyone converged upon my place and it was overrun by middle school girls. I felt rushed, which is similar to many of my nightmares, but I was handling it well.

Lucas was with me for the morning and, as the clock ticked by, we inched closer to my daughter’s big meet up with her friends. My job, at the time, was to load my boy into the car and head over to their mom’s house for a big send-off. I always get a little worried when a deadline approaches. My son – not so much. He’s cool like that.

I tried to get his sneakers on, but with his iPad in hand, Lucas will blindly step his feet into the general vicinity of where he thinks I might be holding his shoe. He won’t look down or try to fit in the foot-hole. No. When he’s Jonesing for YouTube Kids, his eyes can’t be distracted by such nonsense.  It turns into a Texas 2-Step that usually ends with him stomping on my hands until I, frustrated, take his iPad away and firmly say, “Enough. Shoes. Then iPad.”  That is what happened that day, among other stall tactics he inadvertently does.

By the time we got out to the car, we still were going to make it on time, but the voice in my head kept reminding me that, “If you’re not early, you’re late.” I didn’t want to be even a minute past due for my daughter’s first post-divorce birthday. This was kind of a big deal. Lucas, again, was not as concerned.


We made it out to the driveway where my little Mr. Magoo began walking without taking his eyes off his device. As he did, he veered from my driveway into the one next door. Watching as he approached Susan’s car, I grabbed Lucas by the back of the shirt and pulled him back on our property. That’s when I looked up to find Susan, heading into her house and watching in shock as my son, whom she never met, appeared to be walking head-on into her bumper.

Hi, Susan. Crazy day.

She looked at me with the same expression she had the first time we met. It was as if I was on a job interview, but it didn’t seem like she was trying to be mean. It just appeared to be her face.


She nodded in my direction. Then she looked down at Lucas.


Again, eyes on the iPad, swirling in circles, and giggling uncontrollably, he couldn’t care less about this lady.

In those next few seconds, I considered it. I figured I could explain that he’s non-verbal. We could have engaged in a long discussion about autism and how it has affected our family. I might have shown her some of his communication skills or helped him transition from his fun iPad to his device to press a courtesy “hello”. I could have educated this woman about non-verbal autism. I had the chance to be that shining beacon of hope and her Hallmark Movie moment.

Yeah. That didn’t happen. I nudged him with my hand.

Say hi, Lucas.

Eyes still on the screen and his body still spinning in place, he raised his hand literally four inches up and flapped his fingers together like a shadow puppet. I narrated it.

Yup. And that’s a hi. “Hi, Susan.” Sorry. We gotta go. In the car, kid.

He rolled himself into the car, I buckled his body against the seat, and we pulled away. As we did, I watched the bewildered look upon Susan’s face as her driveway appeared smaller and smaller in my rear-view. This was not a teachable moment.

And, you know what? That’s OK.

Actually, it’s more than OK. It’s the reason why I have always advocated for “Autism Awareness”. Here was a woman who didn’t seem too familiar with children like my boy. There might be no one in her family she can equate him to or friends in her circle who are on the spectrum. She might not be personally affected by it at all.

She should know what it is, though. If not, she can ask me next time, when we aren’t rushing out for a major life event. While I love talking about my son, I don’t always have to talk about him. That’s the whole point of acceptance and understanding. It means that times like this don’t have to be my responsibility to explain immediately. Sometimes, you just gotta get in the car and take off. So we did.

And Susan, if you’re reading this, he’s non-verbal. I didn’t have time to tell you that day. Also, where the hell is my casserole?