I was running errands, when completely out of my way, I saw someone with a cardboard sign. I had no cash, and couldn’t read it, but something about the man standing there set off some sort of alarm in my head. I wasn’t sure what it was, though. So I mentally decided to get some cash back from my purchase, and swing by his street corner on the way home, and if he was there, I would give him some money.
Well, the light was green but he was near a parking lot, so I pulled in. With a bit of Brooklyn still in my bones, I stashed my purse in the back seat in case it was a ruse to lean in and rob me. I rolled down my window, and the man came over.
By this point, his sign was folded over. He had been by the road but not holding up his sign. He was rocking, and pacing, like Ted does when he is distressed. Instead of a sign to alert people of his need for money, food, shelter, it had become to him something to ‘stim’ with. He folded it and moved it in his hands like Ted does with rectangular objects.
I told him I had seen him before, but couldn’t pull over. He said thank you, and then some unintelligible words. They weren’t like the jibberish of a homeless ‘crazy’ person on the subway. My experienced ear recognized it as the sounds and attempts of speech of a person with very little ability to speak. Half words. Constantants and a vowel after. He couldn’t make eye contact, he continued to rock and stim, and stuck the money in his pocket without looking at it, as he walked off to pace and rock by traffic again, his sign unable to be read by someone because he did not even have the ability to understand socially that to beg for money from strangers, your sign has to be able to be read by them; they have to be able to see you.
Ted does that. He often picks out something he wants to do, see, or eat on his ipad. He will find a picture or go to an app or website, pick out something, and make a noise, “ba”, which means, “the thing I have a picture of here is something I need or want”. But because of the lack of social understanding, he doesn’t actually make sure the volume is turned up, or that he is showing me the screen. If HE knows what is on the screen, he assumes everyone else does.
All my son has is a very expensive piece of cardboard. He tries to communicate to the world, just like this man did. My son usually communicates that he wants some french fries, or that he wants to watch some sponge bob. Maybe he wants to go to the park. My son will be ok if he doesn’t get to watch an episode of Invader Zim.
This man needed to communicate the message to the world that he was in need. In need of things more important than a cartoon or some french fries, but he was unable to communicate as well.
This is a paradox of autism. Often, people will pass IQ tests, and not be able to get much assistance because of this. Their disability can be severe because of this lack of ability to communicate and read social cues. But it isn’t the RIGHT kind of disability to get help from others. I know many people who fell through the cracks.
I left, teary eyed, and for once glad that my son’s disability is so severe that he probably won’t have to beg on the streets. He may face many other challenges and is at risk for other things, but for once, his IQ problems and his complete inability to communicate fluently was a plus. On some levels he is at risk if he IMPROVES, and may be pacing on a corner somewhere, alone, when Dan and I are gone, because he will be “too smart” for disability, “not disabled enough” to get any help. This man is someone’s child, and no one has a child expecting their life to be like this, and they certainly don’t want it for their children.
Please don’t let someone’s child starve alone on the street.