Today, I saw a scene that would have stopped you in your tracks, if only you knew what preceded it. I witnessed a moment I wouldn’t have imagined in darker days for this girl. I won’t tell you how I know her story, because I know her parents aren’t looking to make her famous. There were no photographs.
What matters is what happened. And what happened stole my breath. Because this girl has been picked on — badly. She has suffered enormously with triggers causing behaviors that are alienating and confusing to others. She has no friends.
But today was amazing. Today, some kids who took the time to get to know her a little – kids who have no knowledge of autism, but don’t really require it because they are innately kind and cheerful – made her laugh. And watching her laugh made them laugh and smile and laugh some more. They were three kids just cracking up laughing over something that was pretty funny in a slapstick kind of way. She laughed for a long time.
It was beautiful. Not in that “How sweet and heroic of him to take the autistic girl to the prom” kind of viral sweetness that draws you in, despite the lingering questions over what kind of romantic hopes the girl might have on Saturday morning. Not in the way that whispers, “See what a wonderful person I am? I’m kind to someone you’d never expect. But I did this amazing thing. Let’s tell everyone about it and make her one day possibly reflect on how she is so different that only one selfless person wanted her company.”
I cringe over these stories. I do think that what many of these kids, celebrities, and strangers have done has been well-intentioned. It’s the way we share it that’s bothering me. It’s the way we gush over it and make special needs people famous for a day — because some person did what others would have considered unthinkable. My problem isn’t the action taken. It’s the echoes left behind after we’ve marveled so publicly. The questions the girl may have about her own worth as a person — if the whole world went crazy over somebody being kind to her.
A little girl laughed today. I don’t have a video to share of it. But I can describe it for you. An autistic girl who rarely smiled and interacted with others – because of cruelty and the nature of her disability – laughed with other children today. A child who had need of friendship, shared interests, fun, and laughter like every other child— but who was plagued by sensory overload and a lack of awareness and acceptance – laughed with other children. Giggled and snorted even. How I wish I could’ve recorded it – not for you nice folks, but for those who love her. They would’ve cherished it.
And she laughed because some nice kids took a genuine interest in her. It wasn’t to make a point or get praise; they just think she’s interesting and wanted her company. And she thought they were worth knowing and laughing with. It’s a triumph for her. I’m the only person who saw it, and that’s perfectly okay with me. Because they know it, and she’ll remember it. She made friends. They were happy for her and for themselves. And that means she’ll likely try it again. I sure hope so. I hope that she laughs a lot more in her life.
Mostly, I hope that her friendship skills continue to grow and that she makes the kinds of friends who will be nurturing and a pleasure to spend time with. The kind who aren’t looking to make a public statement, but who intend to value her friendship beyond the viral tweets and shares. I hope that one day nobody sees her as a surprising candidate for prom date — and instead just wave at her as they dance by. I want her to hear messages that aren’t “Yay! You’re here! We’re so surprised!” and are instead “Of course, you are here, because you’re one of us, and it’s where you belong.”
These are my hopes for her. And my hopes for my own child. The circumstances and events may change, but I hope for the same thing for all the kids not yet on the playground.
A little girl laughed today — and took a few steps closer to those in her world. Every day, I pray that others will meet her halfway — only without looking over their shoulders for the camera.
Because I don’t ever want her to see that camera and wonder why it’s there.