My son, Alex, was diagnosed with autism when he was three. There is no cure. No known cause. No recourse. All I could do was work and pray and wait. Over time he has improved, incremental steps towards normalcy. He speaks, he’s potty trained, he ties his shoes, he loves, and these simple milestones that we overlook are for him momentous accomplishments. His behavior in public places has always been difficult. Over the years our family has been asked to leave just about every place imaginable. I often feel as though I am spending my life begging people to let my family sit in the back of the bus and being firmly redirected to the sidewalk.
One such incident occurred the week after September 11th. Like all patriots we decided to attend a vigil in our local park. We sat in the far back. Thirty minutes later Alex started begging to swing. This was after all where he romped every Saturday. So I took him. A few minutes later a woman lambasted me for allowing my child to play. This caused Alex to unravel and he threw himself down on the grass and commenced screaming. Another woman came by wanting to know if Alex was injured or just a brat. I told her why he didn’t understand. So she attempted to explain to him that he was interfering with her ability to hear. She might have as well have been speaking Latin. At this point we are attracting the usual suspects; old women, who never let their child behave that way, and young women certain that they could handle the situation better. Their problem of course wasn’t that they couldn’t hear. If that was the case they could have walked to the other side of the park where his sobs would not have drowned out the words coming over the microphone. Their problem was his behavior, and my inability to control it.
We walked home, away from the solidarity of flickering candles and the confederacy of intolerants. I wept. I wanted so badly to teach my children about love of country and community. I could barely see and so I missed part of what happened next. There was a scuffle off to my right and then a shriek. I turned to see two women lying on the grass with a two-year-old cowering beside them. Their attacker saw us and fled. I helped the shocked and bleeding women over to a concrete porch and sat with them while we waited for the police. Alex taught the toddler how to spin, turning around and round and never losing his balance. She tried to imitate him and fell laughing in the grass. The sirens calls encircled us in the darkness, like wolves howling out to find each other in the night.
I believe that sometimes there is a purpose in suffering, a benefit in isolation, which has little to do with the lives of the afflicted.
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