I was at the desk Monday night, and an earnest girl, round and awkward, bustled up to the desk. “Do you have any books on autism?” she asked.
“I ‘m sure we do – let me find the number and see where they are.”
“They’re for my mom,” she said.
We have several books and I asked her about one title. “This one is called 1001 great ideas for teaching and raising children with autism,” I said. “Do you think that would help your mom?” I didn’t know if her mom was a teacher, parent, or sufferer.
“Well, I’m the one with autism,” she announced. “All these years I’ve had it and they finally diagnose me at 18.” She snorted. “My mom just wants to understand it better to help me.”
I thought about this as we went back to the shelves. My nephew has autism spectrum disorder, and so does the son of a close friend. Although they were diagnosed as younger children, there were still years when friends and family wondered what was wrong. Why were the children so uncomfortable around people? Why was their development so unusual? We were worried for them, until they were tested and the cause revealed.
In the stacks, she continued, “I want some books for myself, too. I’d like to see what they suggest. I already know some things. I don’t deal with change well.” This is a typical characteristic of the spectrum disorder.
She gave a muted grrrr of frustration, also typical. “We may have to move. I hope we don’t have to. I’ve been praying that we don’t.”
I pulled some books off the shelf for her, focusing on teens, and on what to do once a person is diagnosed. She looked straight at me for a moment, something unusual for autistic people. “Thank you so much for your help. I didn’t expect the library to have so many books and so much information about this. After so many years of not knowing what was wrong, I want to take all the help I can get.” She smiled.
“Good for you,” I said. “I’m glad. Let me know if you need any more help.”
I gave her the information she requested. I hoped it would give her what it gave us with the boys. I remember the relief, the direction. Now we had a path to take and action to help them overcome some of the obstacles. Though they were young, we still wondered if the therapies would work, if they would develop the social skills they needed to interact meaningfully with other people.
This girl gave me hope. Without being diagnosed or having the benefit of specialized therapy, she had developed the confidence to clearly and directly ask me for the help she needed. She could explain her situation. She could look me in the eye and express her gratitude. She could communicate her feelings – all difficult for people with autism.
Information for hope, with gratitude on both sides. Definitely a fair trade.