Keep Smiling

June 11, 2014
Yesterday, Robert and I were reading a section from The Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond by Jed Baker. The section referred to the welcoming and unwelcoming ways of looking at people. Of course, given diagnosis of autism, one might be tempted to conclude that Robert is not able to differentiate between welcoming and unwelcoming expressions on other people faces. However, given my prior experiences with Robert, I don’t think that this is the case.
Something else had to stop Robert from trying to decipher other people attitudes toward him.
I realized that this morning when I walked with Robert to the van that took him to his day program. There were a few gentlemen already there. Robert struggled to say, “Hi”. He said it very softly with his head down. With my help, he followed with clearer, “Hello” accompanied by a quick glance at others. Then, without any prompt, he uttered, “Good Morn” . The gentlemen were smiling at him in the most welcoming way. All of them. They smiled as if they were saying, “We understand that you are struggling, but we appreciate your effort.”
In the past, when another van was taking Robert to his school, and another group of Robert’s peers was occupying the seats, Robert had never experienced a welcoming expressions on his classmates faces. Because they were all his classmates. They were not aggressive, they were not mean, they just ignored him as if he didn’t exist. Just from happening every day “polite” shunning, one could assume how lonely Robert must have been in his former classroom.

Today, such a difference! Maybe it was that now, Robert is travelling with adults, not adolescents. They know better. They understood that everyone has to struggle so they empathize with Robert’s difficulties.
Robert climbed on his seat quietly and got busy fastening his belt. I didn’t see his face.
I believe, he felt the same warmth I felt. He just doesn’t know yet what to do with it, how to reciprocate it.
One day he will learn. Just keep smiling at him.

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