Just about this time last year, I was driving to work at my usual 6:15 am time. I’m like clockwork, it’s one of the few things I have control over in my life. It had to be about this time of the spring because at 6:15 it was almost light out. Regardless, I went through the intersection at the “Girls Club” on Dean Street and…. whoop! whoop! Seriously?!?!? I got pulled over by a State Trooper in an unmarked pick-up truck. Ughh. I rolled down all the windows and put my hands on the wheel. When he approached the window, I gave him the “I know, I know.” He asked me what I was doing. I told him. I was reading emails. Did you see the red light? Nope. If I had, I would’ve stopped. Are you always this honest and forthcoming. Depends on who you ask. Where are you going?
I genuinely could not have been less interested or bothered by this morning interaction with the law. All of a sudden, the officer gave a “Holy sh*t! You teach at a high school and you have a child with autism?!?” That caught my attention. How’d he know? Oh, that’s right, there’s a sticker on the driver’s side rear window (not the part that rolls down) of my Suburban (the ‘burb) designating such. If I were to ever get into an accident or have some sort of emergency, folks need to know what they’re walking into. I’ve taken quite a bit of grief over that sticker, but it doesn’t trouble me much. It’s for Tommy’s safety and out of respect for first responders.
That same sticker sparked a conversation with Will recently as he and I were going to the orthodontist. I asked Will what autism is. His answer didn’t surprise me other than he had Tommy’s medical needs mashed up with ASD. He thinks if you have autism you have a feeding tube, you can’t eat normal food, and you can get very sick. Huh. I should probably clarify some of this at some point for him, but not while an orthodontist is mangling hardware in his mouth. I’ll get there eventually. We don’t actually talk about autism much with Will or Tommy’s medical issues for that matter, but the kid is no dummy. He also doesn’t miss a trick. On the way home from Will’s appointment, I asked follow-up questions and I have asked a few more since. Here’s a snapshot:
Me: What’s autism, again?
Will: Mom, it’s where kids are special and some of them can’t do certain things and they can’t always talk, and they do different things….like different things.
Me: Does Tommy do different things?
Will: Yeah, obviously. He jumps up and down…ALOT. He makes funny sounds and noises. He cries all the time. He doesn’t know what’s safe and not safe. He plays with baby toys. He’s awfully impatient.
Me: So what’s good about having a brother with autism.
Will: Mom, he’s hilarious.
Me: How so?
Will: You know how he repeats himself all the time? Well, sometimes he’s repeating jokes and they make me laugh. And he’s really smart. I learn so much stuff from Tommy that kids at school don’t know.
Me: Like what?
Will: Tommy teaches me about science, space, the planets, natural disasters, and, well…there’s one thing I probably shouldn’t say.
Me: (In a panic) Will, what?!?
Will: Tommy knows passwords to everything…WiiU, Xbox, your phone, the garage, the house, Verizon, Netflix, Amazon Prime, the ATM…
Me: I got it Will.
Will: Mom, do you know what else? I love Tommy’s friends: Mason, Slyar and Connor.
Me: You do?!? Why?
Will: Because they’re really smart and funny and they love Tommy even though he doesn’t play with them when he sees them.
Me: Does Tommy love you?
Will: Duh. I know because he’s always excited when he sees me even though we fight. Tommy needs my help and lets me help him. I tuck him in at night when he cries sometimes.
Me: Does Tom tell you he loves you?
Will: Only when you tell him to. But I know he does.
Me: What would you want the world to know about autism, Will?
Will: I wouldn’t tell anybody anything. We don’t need to broadcast it to the world!!!!
Me: Why not?
Will: I don’t want people to make fun of Tom.
Me: Who would make fun of him???
Will: Kids might, but probably grown ups. Some of them make fun of everyone.
Me: Well, forget that, then. What do you want Tommy to know or kids like him to know?
Will: I learned at Bennett School and from a video I saw that it doesn’t matter if you’re born with autism or no autism. You’re perfect just the way you are. Maybe it was YouTube. Am I going to get busted on that one, for watching too much YouTube?
Me: Will, are you worried about that? Getting busted?
Will: No, but I worry about bees and going to college with Tommy. He’ll want to go for space and I want to be an engineer or an author. What if we can’t live together? Oh, and Tommy’s my best friend. I have a best friend at school, but that’s different. Well, he’s not different. You know what I mean, right, Mom? Mom, what happens if Tommy gets sick when we’re in college? Will you come get him?
Yup, William is eight years old going on 90. He’s pretty astute. I hope that stays with him. But back to the sticker on my car. Does Will think we’re just broadcasting Tommy’s ASD? That morning I got pulled over I was sure I was in for a hefty ticket and I could not have cared less. I was speeding. I was checking emails (that’s pretty much the same as texting). And I blew through a red light. That guy got me, good for him.
The officer leaned on my car window chatting about being a teacher and then asked me why I offered up the emailing bit, even though he clearly saw I was on my phone. I told him I didn’t have time to lie. He asked what time school started. It was now 6:20, school started at 7:30. He was perplexed. I explained that the last thing I needed was some high school kid to drive by and then I’m someone’s Snap story.
He asked if having a son with autism was hard. I told him his job was far more difficult. He asked if teaching was hard. I told him his job was far more difficult. He laughed. I laughed (give me a ticket already!!!!!!). He did the bang on the window frame and said, “lady, do me a favor and look up every once in a while.” You got it, sir.
I wonder if that sticker has gotten me out of anything else. I doubt it. And for the record, it’s not a broadcast, Will.
I’ll be changing my passwords in case you’re worried.