I saw you.
I saw you hold your son’s hand. He looked about 11 or 12. That was my first tip-off. Most boys that age won’t willingly hold their mom’s hand in public.
I saw you checking out the hotel pool, scanning it for potential triggers. Searching for the best place to set up camp for your family—closest to the exit, plus closest to the pool.
I saw you prompt your son into the water or as close as he could manage at first. His hands over his ears, he managed to sit on the side with his feet in. I saw his eyes squinting tight, but after a while, he relaxed. His hands never really came down off his head, but relaxing, he flapped them from time to time.
I watched you, your husband and your daughter all get in the pool and stand around and in front of him, forming a sensory shield. All smiling. But I noticed you, Mom, still scanning the scene, ever watchful.
I gave you a big smile. I know my tribe. I wanted to swim over and fist-bump you or give you a high-five. Of course, I had my own son to keep eyes on. Plus, I’ve never figured out a good opening line when I spot another autism spectrum disorder family. “Flap here often?” isn’t so smooth. I could only hope you saw my smile that was just that, a smile—not condescending or with pity. I just wanted to acknowledge you.
I saw you the next morning at breakfast. You “opened the joint,” like we do. I smiled and wished you all a good morning. I overheard your son ask quite anxiously, “What time is it?” to which your husband replied quite wearily, “It’s vacation. It doesn’t matter what time it is.” I heard you sigh. You knew how it mattered, but you also knew how your husband felt—doing that dance of trying to keep the peace.
I hope you had a good vacation. Maybe it’s not the type of vacation others would enjoy, but for your family, it was great. I wish I could’ve told you how nice it was to see one of our own. That just seeing you and your family made me feel less outnumbered by the “typical” families around me. I wish we ran into each other more. Maybe we would’ve thrown our heads back and laughed at a joke only we could understand. Maybe somehow you’ll see this and realize you weren’t the only one at that resort with autism in your life. I hope you and I find more of our own wherever we go. To keep us company. To help and support. To sound off and give advice.
Maybe even just to share a smile between two strangers at the pool.