Howard Kenyon, the program manager at our food pantry job, asked the three of us to speak at their breakfast fundraiser last Wednesday. He wanted us to talk about Alex's experiences volunteering at the pantry. Of course we said yes, how could we not help support an organization that has given us so much?
Public speaking is not my passion, I have the classic panic response of a novice speaker (and I won't be posting my speech) but I'll do anything for the food pantry or Alex, so up we went. The fundraiser was exactly the kind of event I would have skipped years ago. The average age of the crowd was around 40, there were no kids in the audience and it was very attentive and polite group. This was not an event about Autism, so I wouldn't expect many people to understand the challenges this kind of event puts on Autistic people.
I came prepared, Bruce, Jen and I all went together. We were seated in the front at at table with 4 other people, right next to the stage. We brought a backpack full of things we felt we might need to keep Alex comfortable for a 40 minute event. You know the drill, right? Look calm and keep a placid smile on your face while you are tracking your kid non-stop in you peripheral vision. You watch all their movements, prepared to offer something to chew, manipulate, hold or distract the second they look frustrated.
And we were ridiculous. Alex did fine, it was one calm 16 year old and 3 adults that looked manically preoccupied. Alex seemed to noticed everyone was sitting and he decided to stay in his seat as well. He noticed other people were quiet and he was quiet. When other people clapped, Alex clapped. He did have to keep his hood up and he wanted to hold the two Blow Pops we brought in his hands the entire time, but really don't we all want to do that?
We spent a few minutes the day before helping him practice his speech, and we made sure to ask him if he was OK with speaking, "Do you want to go up on stage and talk about your job?" we asked, "Yes." Alex said. He must have been telling the truth because when it was our turn to speak Alex bounded up to the stage. We pulled out the index cards and he belted out his speech. It was fantastic. Alex looked fearless and the speech went great.
It's hard for me to look back and see how far we've come. I'm definitely a 'what do I have to do next?' kind of person. I have the 'to do' list, followed by the 'things in the near future' list and the 'things in the distant future' list. Looking back feels like a distraction at best and at worst a waste of time. Wednesday morning though, I looked back.
He matched other peoples demeanor by choice or ability, I'm not entirely sure which. He spent a lot of time watching other people at the event, it seemed like he was taking his cues from them. I'm don't put a lot of emphases on Alex 'passing' for typical but I definitely notice when he isn't hitting anyones radar, that morning he was definitely off the radar. Five years ago this event would have been a production. We probably would have sat near an exit, we would have been prepared to take Alex in and out of the event to keep him occupied, we would have made it work but it would have required a LOT of modifications. Today though we needed almost none. It was a big moment.
It's possible it was a bit of a fluke, maybe his sensory system was working well, maybe he was still tired from waking up early to make the event, who knows? But honestly it doesn't really matter. He did it, he did it well and he did it in a way he couldn't have five years ago.