Ed note: You might recall that yesterday’s post began with a note that said, Three magical things happened that night — the first you’ve already read about, of course, but there were two more. and the first of those started with nothing but a phone call.
This, my friends, was the third …
During dinner, Brooke and I sat across from one another. On her left was Aisling, on her right, Tristan. Tristan already had my heart. From the moment that I’d met him at Tuck’s memorial service, I was hooked. The gentle handshake. The poised and polite, “Thank you for coming.” The formality with a touch of the achingly familiar.
During the dedication of the Wii cart at the hospital, he’d done everything that was asked of him, but otherwise kept to himself. He’d had his headphones plugged into his iTouch, and as the kids careened around the room, he’d watched the screen intently.
At dinner, it was Brooke who was staring at the screen. The room was crowded and the table was loud. Katie and Finn were debating something at an octave that only preteens can hear. Jeni and I were laughing. Alex and Loch were talking. Aisling, to Brooke’s left, was looking to play. It was a lot to process and even more to manage. Brooke was holding it together, but not by much. The iPad was her lifeline.
Tristan leaned in to see what she was playing, then asked a question. It was a perfect opening salvo for conversation.
“Oh, I like that game too. What’s your high score?”
Ever so slightly, I panicked.
He was too close. Not for anyone else, but for her. He was asking a question that she couldn’t answer. She has no idea that the numbers on top of the screen have meaning. ‘Scores’ don’t enter into her orbit.
She was immediately overwhelmed and confused. She let out a shriek in response to his question. I tensed. I thought of one of Landon’s cartoons …
Copyright Landon Bryce 2013 thAutcast
used with permission
… and was desperately afraid of how this might go.
And then I wasn’t.
Because his response was so incredibly sensitive, so empathetic, so generous.
I explained that she was overwhelmed by her surroundings and that the iPad made it easier for her to handle.
“I get zoned in too sometimes,” he said. “I get that completely.”
And then he asked what kind of autism Brooke has. I explained that she was first diagnosed with Autistic Disorder, or Classic Autism, but that more recently her diagnosis changed to PDD-NOS. He nodded thoughtfully. “I have Asperger’s,” he explained. Jeni asked him if he remembered when he used to have a tough time in busy places too. He said that he did. And then he said, “We’re a lot alike. I understand.”
I wanted to hug him. On so many levels, I just wanted to hug him. And it struck me, just how amazing that moment was. How this poised and confident sixteen year-old young man, who occupies such a dramatically different place on the spectrum than my girl, looked at her and said, “I get it.” How, despite their stark differences, their commonality was clear. How generously he adjusted for her – his expectations, his approach to her – because he got it. How easily we talked about his diagnosis – and hers. How comfortable he was saying, “This is who I am.” How the words weren’t about labels, per se, but identifiers, common threads. How he intuitively knew not to take offense when she simply couldn’t handle interacting.
I wrote to Jeni on Monday morning. “I’d like to write about the interaction between Tristan and Brooke,” I said. “But only if both you and he are completely comfortable with my doing so.” She promised to ask him and then we talked some more. We talked about comfort and confidence and their root cause – acceptance. “Acceptance is key,” she said.
After spending time with Tristan, and all of Jeni’s kids for that matter, if she had told me that feeding them pinky toenail of newt every Thursday was the key, I’d go out and get some pinky toenail of newt. Because the proof is in the pudding, folks.
But it turns out that her big secret is no secret at all. It’s the very equation upon which we’ve been working the whole damned time.
Awareness + Acceptance + Celebration of Awesomeness = Self-confidence –> Self-esteem –> Happiness
No pinky toenail of newt necessary.