Friday, August 7, 2009

He Said Hello...

I have been living in the same neighborhood for almost 10 years now. One of my neighbors has a son that is Autistic. When we first moved in he had a very difficult time with social interaction. Recently he has moved to a facility where they have experts at dealing with his condition and helping them be more successful. He has started to interact a little more naturally.

I have been a little unsure of how to act around him. He has many of the common signs of someone that is very autistic and I am not sure what he likes and what scares him. He is about 6 foot 5 and very strong. One of the things he enjoys doing is helping with the gardening. He likes to weed. After he gets going though, small trees occasionally fall into the category of things that need to be uprooted and moved.

I have always tried to reach out to him when he is around and engage him a little bit in a non-threatening way. I don't try to push into his territory or force him into a situation where he has to respond. About a week or two ago, I was out in front of my house and they were getting back from walking the dogs. I said hello to his mother and said hello to him by name. He actually met my gaze and said hello back. I was completely stunned. This is the first time that I think he has responded to me in such a casual way. He was not prompted with specific verbal instructions to say hello. I have read a little bit since then and I think part of it might have been the fact that I was respectful, want to engage him, and did not put much weight on getting a response. I was saying hello because I valued him and he was comfortable to return the gesture or not without being judged.

He still has some very noticeable physical characteristics and mannerisms. I think many people would judge him for those. He is another example where "Body does not equal mind". He is huge (very tall and thin), imposing, and has darker features. The net out is that he looks kind of brooding and almost furious to me. I don't think he can control this easily. On the inside he is actually really sweet, gentle, and considerate. In 10 years, I have never seen him do anything that was riskier to people than something where he might not have realized that someone outside of his vision might be in the direction he was pulling something. This is a very common occurrence.

It has given me great pleasure to see him slowly improving his ability to communicate with the world and interact. We are gaining a wonderful person in our community.

M. Thank you for saying hello!

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