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The Little Things

Posted Jan 10 2010 12:00am

umbrellas for guests’ use in the lobby of the Hotel Country Villa, Nagarkot, Nepal, during monsoon season 

Sometimes the little things* mean so much.

Yesterday, we participated in a day-long Scouting event that Nigel’s troop organizes annually - Christmas tree recycling. The Scouts and their parents drive all over our town and the neighboring town, pick up Christmas trees from people’s homes, load them onto trucks and trailers, and take them to a local park where later they are turned into fish habitat and mulch. It’s a great program for the community, and the donations received from it help to fund the Scout Troop’s activities for the year.

Halfway through the day, we break for lunch, which is prepared and served by Scout parents and siblings at the local church where we have our weekly meetings. During lunch, one of the Scout’s sisters walked around the tables refilling drinks for people. Nigel was seated at a table near me, and as she passed by, he held up his cup for her to refill. She did, and he said, “Thank you.” He said it perfectly, so naturally, like he’s been saying it all along. And he said it completely unprompted.

My heart raced, and I wanted to stand up and shout, “Did you hear what he just said?! On his own?!” For years, after he finally started talking, I have always had to prompt him to thank someone, whether it’s for a gift, a server bringing him something in a restaurant, me buying something that he wanted, or for anyone helping him in some way. I have repeatedly told him that whenever someone does something for him, even if it’s just holding a door open for him, he should say thank you. And, until yesterday, I had never heard him say it unprompted. The way autism affects him socially, it just doesn’t occur to him to thank people. I think that now, at this age, he understands why he should and that it’s expected, but he usually just doesn’t think of it at the time. He may be battling sensory issues in whatever environment he’s in, or preoccupied in some way that we don’t understand. It’s not because he’s rude and doesn’t have manners. And I know that he does the best that he can, and his family and friends know it too. We don’t hold it against him when he doesn’t thank us.

But the general public doesn’t know or understand, and that is why I have continued to drill into him to say thank you. And that’s also why I write and advocate about autism - so that the general public might start to know and understand, and he can meet them halfway. He won’t always say thank you when he should. He can’t always say thank you. But he tries. And when he does, it’s beautiful to hear. It’s a little thing, but it means so much.

*For more not-so-little things, check out Jess Wilson’s Community Brag Page! It’s a great space for any parent of a child (any age) with ASD, whether you are a blogger or not, to contribute to an ongoing celebration of our kids’ amazing progress. Cheers!

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