My hackles raise.
I smiled when I first saw the boy talking to himself as he entered the youth services area of the library. I wasn’t mocking him but thinking, I wonder how often adults caught me conversing with myself at that age?
Self-recognition and bemusement quickly give way to territorial instinct as he approaches. Judging this book by his cover, I assume he is too old to play with the foam blocks, over-sized wooden puzzles and plush story book characters stored in the children’s nook.
Philip has his back to the young man, completely absorbed in his play. He lines up three magnetic cars and puts a plastic chicken on top. He pushes his assembly across the table, replaces the chicken with a goat and repeats the process.
I am concerned that the too-old-for-this-area boy will disrupt Philip’s reverie. I flash back to summer at the park. Big kids invaded the tot lot, barging into a space they had outgrown, getting in the way of the kids who are supposed to be here, behaving rudely to the wee ones who need this enclosed, safe space to play in.
Here at the library, I worry that this boy carrying a handful of DVDs will behave like the punk kids at the park. He leans his too-tall-for-this-section frame over the case of board books. I eye him from one of the armchairs as he browses, picks one up, makes an appreciative sound and then returns it to the bin.
The boy leaves the books and sits in the chair beside me. I see now that he is holding a copy of Finding Nemo. I notice that the hood is still up on the black winter coat he is wearing. As he sits next to me, he begins rocking. And vocalizing.
Instead of seeing myself in this boy, I recognize my son. I find the familiar sounds comforting. Mannerisms that I once considered odd or found unnerving now make sense to me. I am no longer wary of the boy, but feel my protectiveness extend to him.
I sit back in my chair and then remain still. I am now the interloper. I cease my running commentary on Philip’s play (“Where is the chicken going? You put the goat on the blue car. Is he going for a ride?”) Despite my silence, the other boy covers his ears. He sits like this for a moment, then moves off.
Based on his behavior, I jump to another conclusion about the young man. The recent announcement by the CDC that autism has a prevalence of one in fifty children is on my mind. In 2012 when they announced an increased prevalence of 1 in 88 compared to 1 in 110 two years earlier, I had joined in the laments.
Over the last year, however, my perspective, like the statistics, changed. I no longer fear this boy I hear making sounds as he walks among the picture books. I accept him, just as I do my son.