It was a Thursday night, and I was sitting on the couch after dinner, watching the news. Noah slipped in from the kitchen and sat down next to me.
A few times daily, Noah sidles in to check on me. While his ninja-level lurking usually scares me out of my skin (because, as he says, “Screaming makes my brain all fluttery”), Noah likes to periodically sense my mood and see what I’m doing. Noah rarely comes to me with an agenda, and in this way, I wonder how he’s even related to his siblings, who never bother to call for me or come into my office unless they are prepared to ask at least 10 questions in rapid-fire succession, all of which betray their self-interest: “When we can do something fun?” or “When will my package get here?” or “How much longer until you can make dinner?” Noah, though just likes to see what’s happening around him.
Naturally curious, Noah is our rotating satellite, hovering close by, always picking up signals.
That night, the Rio Olympics were drawing to a close, making way for the influx of Paralympians and their own opening ceremonies. So at the tail end of the national news, the network aired a story about Paralympian Mikey Brannigan, set to make an appearance in Rio. Mikey is tall and lightly freckled, with auburn hair. The youngest of three children, he has no physical handicap. As a child, Mikey was in constant motion, spinning, climbing fences, and sometimes even running away. His mother Edie remarked he was sometimes “out of control.” Mikey’s behavior didn’t make sense to his parents.
Until of course, he was diagnosed with autism.
Noah wheeled around to look at me. We stared at each other, open-mouthed. This good looking kid from New York sprinting down a track with a professional’s cadence had autism. For perhaps the first time in his life, someone had said the “A” word, and Noah didn’t throw a fit. He didn’t snort or make a snide remark about being tossed in with a group of people who were “more disabled” than he is. No. This time, it was as if the reporter had referenced a secret society to which only a select few belonged. The look on my son’s face was one of breathless excitement. His unspoken exclamation hovered in the room:
He’s just like me!