I saw a young boy a few months ago at a picnic. We’ve had some ‘in passing’ conversations since then – a quick hello, how are you doing, it’s nice to see you again kinds of small talk. Ronan hasn’t been going to church with us lately, but, last week, the boy remembered seeing him at that picnic.
While in the parking lot waiting for my daughter after a game one day last week, the boy, who’s about 7 years old, saw me and said hi. He asked what we were doing, and I told him we were going to go home since we couldn’t stay for the next game. “It would be too much for my son.” He very quickly replied, “He’s the one who was in the yellow headphones who was in the wheelchair.”
Taken aback, I said, “Wow, yes. Good memory!”
I continued, “It’s actually a stroller that Ronan uses when he gets too tired to walk. But, yeah, that’s my son.” I then gave the boy a little more information about why Ronan had those yellow headphones and why he sometimes needs that stroller. “When he was much younger, he could do things like other little boys could do. But then, Ronan got sick.” I shared just a few things that happened to Ronan then and added, “Ronan is non-speaking now.”
The boy’s sister was with him and had tons of little kid questions, like Can he say anything? How did he get sick? Is he okay now? Since I don’t know their family very well yet, I answered each question with very simple facts and also kept the conversation very G-rated, meaning no talking of vaccines. The boy had stayed quiet while his sister and I were talking.
The next day, I saw the boy again. “Hey there!” I happily greeted him. His greeting had a different emotion than mine. “I feel bad for Ronan,” he told me with sad eyes. Completely taken by surprise, I said, “Oh! Why, buddy?” I had spared him lots of details, like that we saw Ronan decline most after vaccinations, but I could tell what little I did share the day before had really affected him.
“Well, he…” the boy started, “…he can’t talk and do things by himself. What if he wants to tell you something?” I told him, “You’re right. Ronan still can’t do some things, but remember when I said Ronan can communicate? I shared that he can type, and he can use sign language, and he can write with a pencil, and he can show us things that he wants.” Quietly, the boy nodded his head and said, “Y-e-s, I remember.” Still, the boy’s eyes told me that he was quite moved knowing that my son couldn’t do things the boy could easily do.
My next words needed to be encouraging.
“Ronan is a pretty happy kid. We keep him safe and as healthy as we can. When Ronan pops into your mind, like it did just now, maybe you can say a little prayer for him. Or maybe you can say a little prayer for the person who’s helping him. When you see me without Ronan, it’s because he’s being taken care of by someone else. It would be so neat if you could say a little prayer and ask God to bless Ronan or bless our helpers. It’s because of our helpers that we’ve been able to keep Ronan happy and healthy, too, and I’m so grateful for them.”
It was a big ask, but the little boy said he could say a prayer.
Knowing I’d captured his full attention, I continued, “And maybe you can add a thankful prayer for what you get to do, too. You get to do lots of pretty neat things, don’t you? You get to go to school, and play with friends, and go outside and explore new places. Don’t feel bad that Ronan can’t do that stuff, but be thankful that you can do what you want to. I think that it’s a really good thing that you’re able to things.” Without saying anything, he nodded. Then as quietly as he had approached me, he turned to walk away and said, “Okay…bye, Mrs. Jameson.”
I thought I sounded convincing, but time will tell if I helped turn this kid’s frown upside down. I’ll look forward to our next meet up. I’ll wonder if the boy will tell me that he thought to pray for my son. I’ll hope that he’ll share that he’s gotten to do something amazing. I’ll also say a little prayer myself. I’ll pray that he’s one of the kids who, when he grows up, will make the world a better place for a child like mine.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.