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When My Son With Autism Was Invited to Ride the Cleaning Truck

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I came across a photo of the city’s cleaning truck. It brought back a wave of fond memories. My son is on the autism spectrum, looking back, the cleaning truck was one of his earliest intense and all-consuming obsessions.

Every afternoon around 4:30 p.m. he got in his pram, rain or shine, and we tracked down the cleaning vehicle. We followed it for at least half an hour. When it was dark or raining, it was even better (for him, not me!) as he could experience the headlights. Maybe “stalking” would be a better word for this activity.

The drivers (there were two of them) waved to us every day and gave us a thumbs up. Maybe they felt sorry for me, or maybe they liked my son’s obvious fascination.

One day, they stopped the truck and introduced themselves. One was Peter, one was Paul. I’m not making this up. One drove the truck, the other walked alongside picking up leftover litter with a grabber. They were soft-spoken and polite.

Another day, they stopped the truck and invited my son to sit inside it. He got in, I took photos of this memorable moment. He said nothing, he was soaking it all in. Once we were back home, all he wanted to do was play with his toy, I imagine reliving the experience. I was deeply touched by Peter and Paul’s kindness.

toy garbage truck

Inevitably, this era ended and we stopped going out to follow the cleaning truck.

Recently, I was at a hospital cafe waiting to pick up my mother after an operation. A man waved at me from a distance. I waved back, but couldn’t place him immediately, even as we began to chat. Then it hit me; it was Peter (or was it Paul?) He said “Your lad must be a big boy by now?” “He is 11,” I replied. We said our goodbyes and I felt very moved at that chance encounter, and even more moved that someone remembers us.

Who would have thought a city cleaning truck would carry such sentimental value?

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Originally published: December 20, 2017
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