I'm Working On It

Today was one of the rare occasions that I got to bring Noah to therapy. Sara is always the one to do it. I usually stay at home with him unless we go to the grocery store or some other little errand. He will sit in a basket and look at all the lights and colors just like all little kids his age. He loves the grocery store .......and Lowes. He really likes Lowes. I don't know why that's his favorite but he loves it. Maybe it's the high ceilings or the tall shelves or maybe even the smell. It smells like outside and he loves outside. Whatever the reason, he's very quiet there. His body stays calm and his eyes are wide and bright. I could stay there all day and not hear a word from him. 
Because he's so quiet,  and because he's still so young, nobody really realizes or sees his differences yet. If they ask him his name, I just speak FOR him. It usually goes something like this:
Random person: "Hey little man. What's your name?"
Me: "His name is Noah."
Random Person, still looking at Noah: "how old are you Noah?"
Me: "He's almost 2!"
Then, they turn their attention back to me, assuming he's just shy. This has worked pretty well so far. There has never been any need to explain to said random person that Noah has autism. 
But today was different. And the response kind of surprised me. 
We were on our way to therapy when I had to make a stop at a small convenience store. I took Noah in with me, got what I needed, and went up to the register. 
He was hanging on my hip with his little hand playing with the hair on the back of my neck, twirling it between his little chubby fingers. I love it when he does that.
While I'm checking out, this nice, older man behind the counter looks at Noah and says: 
"Hey little dude..... What's your name?"
Noah, of course, completely ignored him and looked over my shoulder to check out this store that he had never been in before, still running his fingers thru my hair. That man may as well have been invisible to him. So, I gave him the obligatory response: 
"His name is Noah."
This man obviously had kids and wanted to interact with Noah so he touched him on the leg and said "Hi Noah". 
He's still invisible. Noah couldn't have cared less. The man wouldn't give up though. He kept tapping his little leg and saying his name so I try to get Noah to acknowledge him by saying, "Tell him hi, Noah"..... 
Great, now I'm invisible. 
The man behind the counter looked at me curiously. It looked like he wanted answers. "Why won't he talk" he seemed to say. Of course, he didn't actually say it but his eyes were asking. "Why won't he look at me." Normally, I would have told myself it was all in my head and just politely left with a little chuckle as if to say "kids.... you know how they are", but this time, I stopped and thought about it. Maybe I COULD tell him. 
I had only just told family members recently and I had been thinking about the fact that the time would come, one day, that he would need some sort of explanation for his behavior. That time could be now. Not that this guy deserved an explanation, but he was nice enough. Plus, the store was empty except for me and him. 
I could consider this a practice run. 
So, without really thinking about what to say or what words to use, I just blurted it out. 
"He's autistic. He doesn't talk yet....but he's getting there". *Big happy grin.* 
The response that this sentence received was a little unexpected.
His eyes softened, his eyebrows furrowed and his gaze dropped just a little and he looked right at me and said
"Oh, don't say THAT. My son didn't talk till he was three years old. Noah is just taking his time. You'll see.. " with another little pat on Noah's ankle. 
Now, at this point, I could have politely left this little store and the nice gentleman inside. I'm sure he meant no harm. He thought he was helping. I could have just said "Oh, you're right. I'm sure he'll be just fine." But I didn't. Something rose up in me that was so unexpected, it surprised me. It wasn't anger. It wasn't aggravation. It was a sudden awareness that he didn't know what autism was. He thought I was telling him my grandson was somehow broken. That he needed to be fixed. Like I thought he was sub-par and I was ridiculing him......calling him a name. Autistic. He didn't understand. 
I decided to "inform" this man about autism. I made it my duty, right then and there in that tiny little convenience store, to preach about it. Maybe it was because all those people had told me nothing was wrong with Noah in the past..... That he would outgrow it. Now I knew the truth. Maybe, now HE needed to know the truth. Ok, maybe I was a LITTLE bit angry. For whatever reason, I started "explaining". 
I told him that it was more than just his speech.....that it was his eye contact and how he gets overwhelmed easily and how he doesn't really acknowledge people he doesn't know. I was spewing, in a very polite way, facts about autism that I had read about for the past year. 
.....1 in 68 children.....
.....it's hard for them to make conversation...
.....it's really a social disorder too......
......he's really smart and knows his ABC's..
.....Einstein was believed to be autistic.....
The words were coming out so fast, I couldn't stop them....and no one else could understand them. 
By the end of my little informative lesson, there were a couple of customers behind me and a look of confusion on this nice mans face. He just smiled at me and said:
"early steps came to my house once a week for a while and now my son is fine. Maybe you could try that."
Well...that was a failure. 
He didn't get it at all! 
I left there feeling a little defeated; like I hadn't done my job. I was supposed to be an advocate for Noah. I'm supposed to inform people about autism, right? 
Maybe not like that though. 
The thing is, I want people to get to know NOAH. Not Noah, the kid with autism. It would be nice if everyone understood WHY he does the things he does but I want them to know him beyond that. 
I want them to know how he loves to snuggle with his G-Paw at night in his big chair. 
I want them to know that taking him outside gets the biggest laughs from him. 
I want them to know how bubbles make him squeal with delight and how when he's tired  he runs around the living room in an endless loop, screaming with joy, just before he passes out from exhaustion. 
He's such a happy little boy. 
I want the world to know HIM. 
How do I do THAT?
I don't know. 
Not yet. 
But I'm working on it. 

In the meantime, I should probably stay away from that convenience store.