A Trip to the Harware Store — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

A Trip to the Harware Store

by Laura


This is one of the first stories I wrote about Matthew, and is an excerpt from my book.

“We need to go to the hardware store,” insisted my eighteen-year-old son, Matthew. I took a deep breath. Another adventure with my autistic son was about to begin.

When we got to the store, Matthew rushed in and disappeared behind the shovels and the toilet seats, then reappeared with an orange extension cord.

Hardware Store

“Mom, give me the money and let me buy this … like I’m a regular man.” His forehead twisted with intensity.

I handed him a twenty and stood discreetly behind him in line, clutching a bottle of Elmer’s glue I didn’t need, a regular woman, just shopping. I watched as Matthew put the extension cord on the counter and handed the clerk my twenty.

She was Flo, an old timer with a bouffant hairdo and eyebrows painted on. I saw the two of them having a little conversation, and could tell by the confused look on Flo’s face that she might need my help – but held back anxiously to respect Matthew’s wishes.

After what seemed like an eternity, Matthew stepped outside and waited as I handed Flo my unnecessary glue.

“See that guy?” she said, rolling her eyes and motioning to Matthew, who was standing outside looking so satisfied. “He’s got mental problems.”

Apparently Matthew had asked her if rhododendrons were poisonous to goats.

“He’ my son,” I told Flo, who looked mortified.

I explained to her that Matthew was autistic and that he had instructed me to stand back so he could be like a regular guy at the store.

“I feel terrible! But he must know he’s different.” Matthew’s hopes, dreams and lack of self-awareness are too hard to explain, I shrugged and took my glue.

Flo didn’t know how many times I had said to Matthew, “If you want to be treated like a regular guy, you’ve got to act like a regular guy.” or “Regular guys don’t talk about poisonous plants all the time.” Unfortunately, social awkwardness is wired into Matthew’s brain, and no amount of instruction or reasoning is going to change that.

I glanced at Matthew as we drove home, and could tell by the strange smile on his face that he had moved on from his “regular man” frame of mind to the absurd.

“What would happen if Dad ate an oleander?” he asked, and the lump that had been in my throat on and off since his birth returned.


Laura Shumaker is the author of A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM


She writes each Friday for 5 MINUTES FOR SPECIAL NEEDS.

Email Author    |    Website About Laura

I'm a fifth generation Californian and live in the San Francisco Area with my husband and three sons. My oldest, Matthew, is autistic and I've been writing about my experience raising him from babyhood to young adulthood for about 4 years. I've read my stories on NPR and published them in magazines, newspapers and anthologies, including Voices of Autism. My book A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism is available at Amazon.

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1 rickismom July 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I know it must be wrenching.
A very good post.

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