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To the Friend Who Has Always Been There for My Autistic Son

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Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

Some people are just born nurturers. They innately and instinctively look out for others and may not even be aware of this caretaking gene that is so ingrained and dominant in their DNA. This is one such human with one such genetic code and we are so grateful for her.

Caitlyn has been Ryan’s friend long before he wanted a friend, needed a friend or really understood the purpose of having and being a friend. Whether it was the call from Caitlyn’s mom Natalie letting me know that Ryan cried in centers, or had a bloody nose on the playground, or sat alone at recess fearful of an impending thunderstorm or shut down in gym class, or defended her loudly at lunch, Caitlyn’s nurturing heart has been the conduit from my son to me. And when you have a child who struggles with communication, having someone be your child’s voice when you aren’t there to help him speak, well, even for someone who does not struggle to communicate, I will never find the words for the depth of that kind of gratitude.

You probably remember how crappy the high school cafeteria was. Now, imagine being the autistic kid in the crappy high school cafeteria. You are bounced from table to table like a pinball in a machine that has no flippers to guide you — not able to sit here, or there, or anywhere. Now imagine as that autistic kid, finding one kind face, one beautiful soul whose kind heart contains no instructions to play such a cruel game. She provides a safe place at her table and gives you the security and trust your body needs to be able to just sit through a 30-minute lunch period and eat.

I know there were moments that weren’t always easy for Caitlyn. She naturally tries to fix every situation to ensure the people she cares about are happy, respected and accepted. I know that didn’t always happen in the cafeteria or in the high school hallways, but what mattered most to Ryan was that there was one safe face, one kind soul, one nurturing heart he could always count on.

Caitlyn, we are so grateful for your beautiful soul. As you have protected, loved and nurtured Ryan, you will do so for many others in your chosen field of nursing. I know Ryan will not be able to scan a sea of college faces and find yours in the dining hall this fall, but thanks to your acceptance, your guidance and your kindness, he will have the courage to walk into that dining hall, feel proud of who he is and comfortably sit wherever the hell he chooses. Pinball game be damned.

And although the words “thank you” may never cross his lips, I hope the smile on his face when he is in your presence is all the gratitude you need. You are both so fortunate to have found one another and share such a beautiful friendship. We love you, sweet girl.

Originally published: April 21, 2020
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