Last weekend we went to Las Vegas. And by “we” I mean my wife and I, the in-laws and the twins.
Although my wife and I often go out of our way to expose the twins to new experiences, taking a pair of 6-year old boys to a place nicknamed “Sin City” is certainly cause for apprehension. And when one of those boys is autistic, some might consider that downright stupid.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
On our way we stopped for lunch and met a relative from my wife’s side of the family; a person whom I’ve never met and more importantly, someone who has never met the twins.
It was interesting in that as we were leaving, I overheard this woman say somewhat privately to my mother-in-law “When you told me that your grandson was autistic I really wasn’t sure what to expect. You know what I mean? But I thought he was great!”
When people initially hear that Matt is autistic, I think a lot of questions go through their mind: What does that mean? How will he act? Does he require special accommodations? How do I talk to him?
And I get that. I’m the same way. I think it’s natural for people to ‘prepare’ themselves for the unexpected.
Yet over and over again, that kid proves that our worries are overblown. He handles himself in ways that make us all proud. Oh sure. He might need a little guidance; perhaps seeking a cue from someone he’s comfortable with. But as I’ve often said, I’ll take Matt any day over most any other kid in terms of manners and how they act in public.
Still, it’s wonderful when an outsider observes the same thing. An outsider with no prior connection. An outsider who essentially just had any preconceived notions proven wrong.
“Really? I couldn’t tell.”
As the weekend rolled on, Matt was put into multiple situations with large groups of people – most, of whom, were unknown to him; strangers essentially. This can be stressful for just about anyone, but for those with autism it can be especially difficult.
On the first night, there was a birthday party in a hotel suite. The next day, we swam at a very crowded Bellagio pool. That same evening, it was dinner at a packed restaurant with about 30 people in our group. And that doesn’t include walking up and down the strip, a stop at the M&M store, the general Vegas crowds, the lights, etc.
Once again, Matt knocked it out of the proverbial park.
He didn’t get overwhelmed, didn’t try to run away nor did he act out in any way. He was near perfect. The worst he did – and I use that term lightly – was put on a birthday hat and run around the suite obsessively blowing a party horn.
Instead he approached people and engaged in conversation. He listened when spoken to. He sat next to perfect strangers.
During a conversation with one of these strangers by the pool, my wife was asked why she let one twin stray a little farther than the other in which her response was a long the lines of “Sometimes we worry about Matt getting distracted and taking off. He’s autistic and when he sees something he likes, he goes for it.”
The guy was surprised. “Really? He’s autistic? I couldn’t tell.”
In a way, that’s one of the biggest compliments we can hear when it comes to Matt: “I couldn’t tell.” And while I understand that my wife and I deserve some credit for that – for how we raise him and how we expose him to situations that, in all honesty, haven’t always worked out – the real credit goes to Matt himself.
Personally, I don’t believe Matt cares one way or another what anyone thinks of him. Yet at the same time, I think he relishes the notion of proving the doubters wrong.
And that, my friends, is something he’s become damn good at doing.