I stopped at the gas station to top off my tank. John sat in the front seat enjoying a new book we found at a thrift store. I made my way toward the grocery store gas area to pay, got in line, glanced back at my car and John and sighed, all was right with my world. In a few seconds I was going to wittiness a heart breaking confrontation that would shake me to my core and remind me, we live in a world where autism is not only common, but has become a battle ground of what is autism and who is autistic enough.
A thin young man was at the window, three people in front of me, and I could hear his words. “I need to buy a lighter for my sister, I have autism, she said you know her and would be nice to me, my sister is Rosemary.” He said to the young man behind the glass wall.
“Yea the lighters are on your left Scott, you take your time, look at them all and if you don’t know what to do, I’ll help you, let me take this mans money right now okay.” The voice behind the glass said.
“Sorry I have autism, this hard.” The thin young man said has the struggled to move to the left, and find the row of lighters hanging on a rack in the small outdoor convenient store. A man shoved past him to pay. I had been so busy watching the young man with autism that I did not notice the Mom in line two people behind me. I vaguely heard her son humming and the Mom ask him to hold her hand and stay with her and stop spinning.
Another person reached the window to pay for gas, and ask for directions to a near by theme park. Before the man behind the glass could finish pointed out directions, I heard, “Help me, I have autism and this is hard, Rosemary said you are nice, you can help me.”
“Okay Scott, I will, Sorry man, here is a map, I need to get his guy a lighter and get him out of here.” I heard the guy behind the glass say as he handed the out of town tourist a map to the theme park.
“Scott, just take a red one, Rosemary likes the color red, okay,”
“Which one, which red one?”
“You pick Scott, Rosemary will be okay with what you pick.”
Behind me I heard jumping sounds and the squawks that John used to make when he had sound.
“Oh get a Damn lighter and GO!” the woman behind me shouted.
Scott turned slightly his face confused, “I have autism this is hard.”
The woman shot past me, dragging her half grown son behind her. “This is autism you freak! MY SON HAS AUTISM!! He cannot speak, wears diapers, I can’t take my eyes off him for a second, I am so sick of people like you saying you have autism, when really, you can walk and talk and shop for Christ sake, you have no idea what autism is!”
Scott began to rock and scrunch up his body, he fought hard not to let his left hand now balled into a fist hit his own head. “I have autism he whispered as he rocked.”
The young man behind the glass yelled out, “Hey he does have autism, high functioning autism, I know your life with your son is hard, but his is too!”
Rosemary had been hiding behind a display of motor oil and sprang forward. “My brother does have autism, I am trying to help him learn to handle money by letting him shop in little safe trips. I sent him to get a lighter because I knew they were at the window and Aaron here would help him, take his money, and not rip him off. My brother needs to learn to do things for himself”
“Well aren’t you so freaking blessed. While you are taking your brother shopping, my daughter is wondering if her hyper out of control brother will crawl into her bed tonight and be covered with shit when he does. Real autism is hard, it’s not shopping for lighters, it’s pure hell!” The woman screamed at Rosemary.
Scott began to cry, “Take me home Rosemary, take me home, I have autism this is hard.”
Rosemary took Scott by the hand and started to walk off, then she stopped and turned and looked at the lady and her son. “Please tell your daughter for me, it will get better, I know, Scott was a poop smearer once too. If you want your child to get better and some day be as high functioning as Scott, then respect the Scotts’ out there, for one day, it hopefully will be your daughter teaching her brother how to buy something as trivial as a lighter.”
I realized at that minute I had been holding my breath and had tears running down my face. I do not live in either world, and yet, I deal with disability as well. John is not able to speak or shop, but he is not unable to be left alone either. I glanced over at the car where John sat, all smiles with his new book in hand. I noticed too that the line was oddly quite and people where simply handing the guy behind the glass money and speaking a pump number. I let the lady and her flapping, buzzing, flipping, squawking diaper wearing son go in front of me.
“Thank you” she said after she had paid for her gas, “You have no clue what real autism is like!” she said to me. I smiled and nodded. As she walked away I said a prayer for her day to be better, her family to find answers and someday have a child as high functioning as John or Scott.
At the widow I leaned down to pay for my gas, and speak my pump number.
“Oh hi Mom, wish you had been here just a minute ago, this lady went off on Rosemary’s brother Scott, I keep telling her not to send Scott up here when it’s busy, but she is trying to teach him to deal with the real world. Anyway, this lady was dealing with a profound kid like John was once, she was hot at Scott. We sure have it lucky now don’t we?” My oldest son said has he took my money and handed me back my change.
“Yes, yes we do, everyday we have it lucky.” I said to nobody in particular as I headed back to my car, and the jewel of a son John has grown to be as he aged into a young man.