Autism: Living with the looks

I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and believe that I witnessed an autistic meltdown.

A father was in line with his teenage son when the woman in front of them sneezed loudly. The noise took the teenager by surprise, and he covered his ears and yelled “too loud, must leave, too loud” over and over again.

The father tried to soothe his son, but it was no use. I tried to make eye contact with the dad; I wanted to help, or at least show him some sign of support. But the two left as the eyes of curious shoppers followed them.

I remembered well the father’s desire to just disappear.

I’ve had many of those moments along the way, but last week when Matthew was home for a visit, I had a converse reaction to an “autism moment”.

I took Matthew bowling – literally. He asked that I watch from a seat behind the lane (not in those seats right next to them) and cheer for him as if he were in a bowling competition.

We were the first through the door when the bowling alley opened at noon, but the lanes filled up quickly. Matthew was in the middle of his third game when a middle aged man in a muscle shirt and his three children (one boy and two girls) were assigned to the lane next to us. The man watched as Matthew hurled the ball, jumped up and down, his hands flapping double time.

“Get your stuff, kids”, the man said abruptly, “that guy gives me the creeps.”

Hello? Do you see his mother sitting here?

I don’t think he did. He went to see the manager, who nodded and sent him about three lanes down.

Through the remainder of Matthew’s games, I cheered, whistled and woo-hooed through my hurt feelings and checked occasionally to see if the man looked at us as if to say “Oh, I understand, God bless you”, but he didn’t.

That’s OK. The good news is that the man in the muscle shirt is the minority.

Still, you never get used to “the looks.”

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