My life was touched with grace, to my surprise, twice this week. My 24-year-old preverbal son with ASD, Ben, is on the wait list to have a foreign body removed from his ear. When the surgeon’s scheduler called this morning to give us the first available date -- 5:30 PM tomorrow -- I told her I was concerned about the no-food-or-drink-after-midnight rule. “Because,” I added, “of his autism.” After a brief hold, she got back to me. “Mr. Burns, I talked to the doctor, and you are scheduled for noon.” I thanked her. “No problem,” she said. “I have an autistic nephew. I know how difficult it would be for Ben to be hungry all day.”
On errands, we parked at the superstore and Ben ran ahead, vanishing. He could have been anywhere, avalanched in the crowd. I asked a young clerk to call security, mentioning my son’s ASD. She flashed a message to the manager, who called groceries and electronics. “I have a cousin with autism,” she volunteered. “He’s five.” Within moments two staffers were walking Ben back to me. One had a youngster on the spectrum. I thanked the staffers and apologized to the manager for the inconvenience. He shrugged. “Happens all the time.”
This is a kinder, gentler world, in my experience, than the one Ben was born into. There was not a hint of the impatience, blame, panic, and miscommunication – “He’s what? Artistic?” – that would likely have characterized this little drama fifteen or twenty years ago. In fact, it was hardly a drama at all.
Nonverbal child with ASD loose in the store? It happens all the time.
Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., taught Communication courses as an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Phoenix. In 1990 his third child, Benjamin, was diagnosed with autism. Burns is the author of Saving Ben: A Father’s Story of Autism. He serves as Adult Issues Liaison for AutismOne, and he chairs The Autism Trust USA, (www.theautismtrustusa.org), a 501(c)3 charity focused on empowering parents to organize communities where their ASD children and others can live and work, enjoy life, give back to society, and continue to heal.