To the Woman at the Courthouse Who Saw My Son About to Melt Down


Adolescence brought a nightmare of challenges into our autism home. Our Nicky is verbal, sometimes too verbal. His constant talking is a kind of stimming for him. It not only fills our lives with his incessant questions, it also causes people to misunderstand the magnitude of his autism. You know, if he can talk it means he can understand, right? Not necessarily.

School is full of triggers for Nick’s frustrated explosions and meltdowns. His most recent episode caused the destruction of a large piece of equipment, and we ended up in court. For a week, Nicky and I worried and stressed about his appearing before a judge. When the day finally came, I had no idea how it would go down. Would he start talking to the judge in his loud-mean-anxious voice and cause the judge to think he really was a criminal instead of someone with intellectual and developmental delays?

The first step in our court experience was to check in at a window in the hallway outside the courtroom. As we stood in line, Nick’s anxiety began to show in his voice volume and the things he started obsessing about. He saw a young woman with an unusual hair color. He started talking loudly about how “teenagers are not supposed to have that color hair.” I began to panic, wondering how I could get him calmed down.

Suddenly, a tall, dark-haired woman in front of us turned around and started asking Nick about Special Olympics. “What events do you compete in?” “Do you know my cousin?” Then she said, “My husband put this new game on my phone. I play it sometimes, but I can never figure out all of the puzzle. I bet you are good at puzzles. Could you help me with this one?” At first, Nicky acted shy and was slow to engage, but then he warmed up, and the two of them spent the rest of our time in the hall playing the puzzle game on her phone. I stood there wondering if I should cry, hug her or just stay quiet, so I didn’t interrupt the golden moment. When it was our turn at the window, we were told to go on into the courtroom. We weren’t even able to thank the wonderful stranger.

We had to sit through two hours in court, watching offenders pay their dues and explain their stories to the judge. I watched another miracle happen as Nick quietly sang to himself during that part of our ordeal. Eventually, we were called into the prosecutor’s office and offered a deferred prosecution. Nicky had held it together as long as he could. The poor attorney’s eyes grew large as she witnessed the beginnings of one of his escalating behaviors. We were able to get out of the building before any catastrophes occurred.

I don’t know if we will ever encounter the tall woman again. Maybe she’s an angel God sent to rescue us in this stressful situation. Maybe she is just a kind lady who has some experience with individuals with special needs. Whoever she is, my heart is filled with gratitude to her.

Nick the pilgrim

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