Yesterday morning, I accompanied Martin to the church basement for Sunday school. Sometimes, even still, I do that, if he finishes children’s time at the chancel and looks for me while the kids shuffle together down the aisle. I take his hand, walk with him down the stairs, watch him get settled.
There were extra attendees yesterday, so the Sunday school teacher and another parent added a second low table and asked the older kids to bring chairs. In that commotion, the younger kids, the kids Martin’s age, began filling the chairs as they arrived. Seven-year-old Kara plopped down, grabbed the chair next to her, and called to six-year-old Kasey, “Here! Kasey, sit here!” As a chair arrived to Kara’s other side, she clapped her hands and said, “Derek! Take this one!” Kasey, now seated, joined in and summoned two more friends: “Come sit at this table! Here! Here!” And so it went. The friends rushed for the best seats.
At the original table, which had eight or ten chairs, Martin sat by himself, silent.
I stood in the door for another minute. Eventually, Martin’s table filled, too. The older children, done moving chairs, sat there. Younger children, similarly un-summoned, maybe visiting for the first time, sat there. The leftovers. The left out. Like Martin, they were silent.
Autism is a series of heartbreaks.
Hidden in the heartbreaks are victories. Victories like these: No one had been directly unkind to Martin; no one had said, no, don’t sit with me, I don’t want you here. He hadn’t been included. Nor had he been rejected. (Compare with South America, when the bratty Valentín shouted ¡Cállate! whenever Martin tried to play.) Martin, also, was doing exactly what was expected of him. He had entered the common room, found a chair, and waited for Sunday school to begin. (Compare with months past, when he might have bolted for the piano in the corner, or tried to enter the toy-filled nursery, or insisted that I stay.) Best of all, Martin chose a blue chair, seemingly oblivious to the empty yellow chair right next to him. (Compare to the days when Martin had to sit on a yellow chair, when if all yellow chairs already were occupied, I had to fetch one from another table, when the lack of a yellow seat in the subway meant an ear-shattering meltdown.)
Hey, this my boy. We’ll get there, and we’ll bring the rest of the world along with us.