Coming off the bus, his first question is always, "Can I play with Joey and Andy today?"
"Sure," I usually reply. Andy gets off the another bus, because the friend is slightly older, but he and Andy are quite compatible in terms of energy. Andy likes having someone to run off energy with. We wander over to our house together.
"Where's Joey?" He stops, then says, "oh, I forgot, he's on another bus." That is all there is to that, a statement of fact; his friend is missing, he misses him, he wishes Joey present, but will be patient.
"Let's go outside," he announces; the weather is nice, and he wants to be out in it rather than playing with Andy inside. Besides, my glass is up, so he can't bounce in here. Joey wants to watch the Disney Santa laugh, so he doesn't move. Andy tosses on shoes and coat. "Aren't you coming, Joey?" Joey doesn't respond right away, so the child says, "OK, then," and out he goes; as he reaches the door, Joey finally gets the words out, "I want to watch Santa laugh first. When this is over." The child looks slightly disappointed, but responds with another version of "ok, then."
Andy and the child race up and down the sidewalk with trucks, they are actually playing two different games, but the games mesh nicely. Andy then races off forward, is fussing with a tree; the child glances at our van. He has seen it dozens of times before, but suddenly notices my bumper stickers. He reads them aloud.
"What's autism?" he asks.
"Autism is a different way of thinking, having your brain wired a little differently. It causes kids to have different strengths and weaknesses than people expect. Autistic people often have trouble talking or having a conversation, for example."
"Joey is autistic."
"Yeah." He reads another one. "Autism is not a tragedy, ignorance is a tragedy. What does that mean?"
"It means people often don't understand people with autism, or what autism is, and they think it is a bad thing, or they think autistic people are stupid."
"Joey isn't stupid."
"No, he isn't..."
"He's one of the nicest kids I know!" the tone is one of offense; he is upset that anyone would think badly of Joey. I have seen him struggle with trying to include Joey, trying very hard to play with him, talk with him. I have often wondered what this child thinks of my son, since he has seen Joey react in unexpected ways, answer in unexpected ways, or not react or answer at all. Now there is no doubt, the fierce look, the sharp tone, the grim brow tell me everything. This child finds the idea of JOey being "different" to be perfectly acceptable, and people who think less of Joey as being ignorant.
And he's quite right.
I do love that child. He can bounce through my house anytime he pleases.