I could see them coming from the parking lot. David was having his weekly speech therapy and I was waiting for him when I saw them approach. The young man was probably 20 years old and was having great difficulty walking. He was wearing a belt around his waist with handles in the back so that his caregiver could help him.
I did not hear him articulate it, but somehow this kid's companion knew when they got into the waiting room that he had absolutely no intention of sitting down. Short of giving him a karate chop to the midsection, it was going to be a test of wills, not to mention physical strength to see if this tiny woman could get the lanky boy in a seat.
I quickly realized as I was sitting there, how uncomfortable I was. Should I make eye contact with her in a show of sympathetic solidarity? Or should I make eye contact with him? Did they need help or should I just act like I didn't notice them? I quickly discarded that last option, because in a waiting room the size of a postage stamp it would have been hard to believe that I didn't see them unless I was in a medically induced coma.
I later smiled at the irony of the situation. I am sure that I occasionally make others equally uncomfortable when I am out with David and it becomes apparent that he is having an issue or sensory overload or decides the he is not inclined to participate in something. Fortunately, he is still of the age and size that I can almost always coax, or even physically "encourage" him to do what I want him to do. But, (and this is a big but) I am not going to be able to do that much longer. As anyone who has ever seen David can tell you, he is a tall kid and was recently mistaken for a third grader—just wait until he repeats Kindergarten next year. Maybe the other students will think he is just a very quiet paraprofessional.
I honestly don't know why I was so surprised at my reaction to this situation in the waiting room. Apparently, this autism badge that I wear does not give me all the answers to every circumstance involving people with special needs. Can you imagine? I have given some thought, however, to what I would have wanted in a similar situation. I am sure that I would have appreciated an offer of help, even if I didn't need it (or probably would never accept it if I did). I certainly wouldn't have scowled at a kind word—to me or to David. I guess what I would have appreciated the most is just understanding in whatever form that takes.
I'll do better the next time. I promise.