I’ve posted about my and Adrian’s reluctance to share Martin’s condition with any circle wider than our closest friends and certain family members. We are private people. Adrian perhaps is more cautious than I am. Among other reasons for maintaining our privacy, he says that many people who learn that Martin has autism will see nothing else about him, even if he recovers.
I haven’t really believed that, until this weekend.
Adrian and I were in a neighborhood bar with Martin—who was not drinking, and in our further defense, was not the youngest child at the bar—when we encountered a couple we see casually. These are four-times-a-year family friends, and not the inner circle, but for reasons immaterial to this anecdote, they know that Martin has autism. (Not through me or Adrian; neither of us has ever discussed the subject matter to them.)
Adrian was relaying our recent trip to Rockland County, and how Martin had insisted that we drive home via the George Washington Bridge instead of the Tappen Zee Bridge. Martin recognizes all the major New York City-area bridges, Adrian said, from the Varrazano to the Whitestone. Even the Kosciuszko, and the Triboro that’s also called RFK.
It should have been a cute story about a three-year-old who spends a lot of time in cars and likes bridges.
It turned into something else.
One of the couple said, “That’s amazing. So he has like a real obsession?”
I answered, “Not so much an obsession. He’s good at the names.”
He responded, “Have you tried taking him to Vegas yet, like counting cards?”
Pardon me, what the hell was that? Adrian tells a story about Martin recognizing bridges, and what pops into your head is counting cards in Vegas?
I suppose there could have been numerous suitable responses, such as:
“You’ve just got way too personal on a topic I’ve never told you about, and you don’t know me well enough to discuss”;
“If all you know about ASD comes from Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, that’s hardly conducive to in-depth discussion”;
“Funny that you thought instantly of counting cards. Do you have a gambling problem?”;
“You will never babysit my child”;
“I know we’re in a New York City bar, but the Vegas scene might still be a little intense for Martin”; or
“Yes. Yes, I have.”
Now, Martin’s recovery is far enough along that this man, had he never been informed that Martin is on the spectrum, likely would not have concluded as much from the limited time he spends with Martin. But since he has heard the word autism applied to Martin, that condition colors all that he sees in Martin. This man was looking at a bright, friendly child and seeing only the A word. Naming bridges = obsession = bizarre talents = Rain Man. Of course.
Unfortunately, I’m neither clever nor bold enough to have given any of the six responses above. I said to him, “Uh, no,” pretended to chuckle, and tried not to appear horrified.
Adrian is right. From here forward, before I reveal to anyone the journey that Martin is on, I will ask myself: Can I trust this person to view autism as one facet of a boy who’s so much more?