When an Autistic Man at the Grocery Store Gave Me a Glimpse at a Hopeful Future

I feel like I need to share something that happened yesterday.

I took my five kids to H-E-B for some groceries. I had 4-year-old Finnigin and5-year-old Veda in the double seat part of the basket, sharing my phone to watch the one episode of “Backyardagains” I have on there. I hoped my battery would last the duration of the trip. Fat chance.

Nadia, 9, had the tiny spiral notebook she earlier had dictated our grocery list on, while 9-year-old Emerson stimmed behind her with his two Pixar cars he had brought in. Meadow, 11, was bringing up the rear, ready to grab items from the next isle over while Nadia crossed them off the list. We ended up taking two-plus hours shopping and finally headed to check out. By the end of it, I was frazzled, to say the least.

Meadow and Nadia started helping put items on the belt. We scrambled to hurry while nonverbal Finnigin started screaming and pulling on my shirt next to Veda. She tried to distract him, but everyone was tired. The cashier was cute and young and gave us a sunny smile.

I looked over and heard our bagger griping at her.

“I told you to put the sticker on the kitty litter. You didn’t put the sticker on, so I had to. You have to put the sticker on or they will get in trouble. Someone will think they are stealing the kitty litter.”

He kept going. He was agitated she forgot the sticker. I noticed how patient she is with him. I’m noticed his familiar lack of eye contact and his hyper attention to the rules.

I wondered, is he like my boys?

“Would you like some help out ma’am?” the cashier asked. I almost always decline the offer when I shop. I guess I don’t want anyone judging my messy trunk. I changed my mind this time.

The young man was still upset about the forgotten sticker.

“Can he help us out?” I asked.

“Can you help this customer out to her car?”

He agreed.

As we’re walking out he started stimming with his hands. We talked about feeling frustrated and what you should do. It mirrored the same conversation Emerson and I had had earlier in the day. We found the car and I started helping the little kids out of the cart. I decided to take a gamble with our new friend.

“This is Finnigin. He is autistic.”

I saw surprise on his face.

“I’m autistic too.”

I smiled at him. “I thought you reminded me of my boys. Emerson is autistic as well. The older boy right there.” I pointed him out since he was already in the van.

There was a little more surprise on his face.

“Two? You have two autistic sons?”

“Yes I do. Let me introduce Emerson to you. Emmy, come here.”

Emerson came over and said, “Hi. What is your name? I am Stedwick.”

Emerson is fixated on maps right now and gives everyone street names — especially himself. It can get in the way of social interaction. I started to explain that to our new friend. He pointed to his name tag for Emerson. I noticed it said “four years” and asked him about it.

“In October it will be five years. I started working here when I was 19.”

Emerson chimed in, “You were born in 1992. Your street name will be Potranco.”

Our new friend was impressed that Emerson got his birth year right and graciously accepted his street name, even though I could tell probably he wouldn’t if it were coming from someone else. We kept talking for a minute or two and then said enthusiastic goodbyes.

I’m sharing this because:

I want to meet this young man again.

I want to thank his manager and co-workers for helping to support him at work.

I want to thank his mother for what a great job she has done and tell her what a wonderful young man she has raised. A young man who I hope is a future version of what’s possible for my sons.

Mostly I want to thank him for being a role model for children like Emerson and Finnigin. In our brief chatting he said, “People don’t understand adults with disabilities.”

I think you are helping to change that. I hope in sharing this, I can further that mission.

I’m very glad we met you.

Image via Thinkstock.

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