George was riding the school bus home, as usual, but got off at an early stop, as unusual.
His reason? Hiccups. He had them and knew there was a public water fountain at an earlier stop, so he got off his bus to get a drink, planning to walk home from there instead, as it was so close to where he usually disembarks.
Except, when he exited the bus, and entered the public facility with the public water fountain, he was spotted by some caring friends who worried, seeing him get off his bus too early. They asked him whether his parents knew he was there. They called me in a meeting. They even went to his dad's place of work, interrupting an Algebra class to let him know his son was deviating from his after school routine. They insisted George stay with them at the public facility until his older brother arrived to pick him up.
Why did those friends go to such lengths to look out for a kid who is well over the age to walk home unattended, and who was literally only about 200 feet away from the usual place a school bus drops him off every day?
Well, for one, because they are the best kind of people to have in your community. It's pretty normal for them to care about friends' kids and be willing to go to great lengths to ensure their health and safety. Enjoying the privilege of raising my family in such a community is the kind of thing that puts a lump in my throat if I think about it for too long.
But there's another, more throat lump-inducing, reason. George is "on the autism spectrum," and they know it. His delightfully dry humor is delivered in a rather monotone voice. Math, logic, and memory are naturally easy to him, and unpredictability is a sort of hell.
So are intense social scenes, like buses and bus stop sites. There was a time when school bus routes and rides were especially stressful and confusing for George. My friends who intervened that day are only part of a group who have all done anything and everything to help him over the last couple of years. For this, to each one of them, I am eternally grateful; even if in this case, it wasn't necessary.
"George, why didn't you tell them that it's okay for you to walk home from there? That you're old enough and know the way..."
Yeah, as I asked the question, I thought I already knew the answer. Because, I reasoned briefly, in our complex world of grown up social cue-fusion, he resorted to silent and wide-eyed staring, like the little chubby-cheeked four year old who lost his voice every time he went to preschool, causing his first battery of assessments and meetings with specialists. Or more worrisome, he was emotionally unchecked, as he has always gotten when overwhelmed. But for only a second could I imagine those less mature versions of my special son. He quickly cut through my misconceptions with a pained sigh, and
"Because it's hard for me to say 'No' to niceness."
Turns out, in all of that "looking out for George," George is also looking out for us, and taking me to school at the same time. Faced with difficult differences in perceptions and processing, he couldn't bring himself to break it to his helpful village. He's got this. They did their job, helped him grow up, and now he can handle it.
"No, thanks." might be hard to say because it's awkward, or because a nice person being nice is too special to stop. Or maybe those are two ways of describing the same thing. I guess those of us who worry about George have to learn that this growing up thing is happening, and perhaps it will cause us to be absolutely clueless at times.
Lucky for us, he's going about it gently.