Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Ben likes to help me mail letters these days. Yesterday, I stopped the car so we could both get out and put some envelopes in a mailbox.

He loves to examine all the parts of the mailbox, opening and closing the door to the chute, looking at the keyhole where the mail carrier unlocks the door to get the mail, and informing me about the general operations of the postal service, as he understands them.

After we mailed our letter and were still finishing our mailbox inspection, another car drove up and a man hurried out to mail something.

"Hi!" Ben shouted and waved at the man.

The man brusquely turned and rushed back to his car, not hearing, or ignoring Ben's enthusiastic greeting.


Ben shouted and started to run after the man, almost into the street, in another attempt to say hello. I stopped him before he could step off the sidewalk and gently walked him back toward the mailbox.

The look in his face left me heartbroken: confused, sad rejection.

"The traffic noise is pretty loud here. Maybe the man didn't hear you," I offered. "Sometimes people are in a really big hurry and they don't always pay attention to other people."

I secretly wished that something unpleasant befall the man who hurried away, who was unwilling to simply return a friendly hello from a small boy.

Just then, a mother and two older children crossed the street and came toward us. Ben saw his second chance.

"Hi!" he waved a little awkward, pageant contestant wave. "Hi there!" he said to each of the kids. The girl and boy - maybe 7 and 10 - giggled a little uncomfortably at his unexpected enthusiasm.

"Hi!" the mom smiled.

"What's your name?" Ben asked. The mom answered and introduced each of the kids, still somewhat stunned by Ben's uber-outgoingness.

He greeted all of them by name. I prompted him quietly, "Why don't you tell them your name?"

"My name is Ben."

"Well, hello there Ben. It's so nice to meet you. You have a great day, now!"


We got back in the car, both satisfied that that world was not such a bad place after all.

I wish I could find that woman and her kids and thank them for appearing - like three angels - just at the right moment and treating Ben with such kindness.

I've seen, and been saddened by, the way his joyful greetings are often rebuffed by other children at school who do not know what to make of such unabashed and adult-like friendliness.

I want the world to return his embrace. I want to scold those children for their indifference. Perhaps it's their social skills that need work and not Ben's.

Most of us have encountered adults on the spectrum who are maybe a little too friendly or awkward in their attempts to engage a stranger in conversation. Sometimes we tend to politely ignore them or otherwise extricate ourselves from what may feel uncomfortable.

I resolved to remember Ben's experience and at least offer a genuine smile to the person the next time this happens; some kind of affirmation however brief.

And maybe this karma will be returned in the form of the world saying, "Hello," at least sometimes, to a very enthusiastic little boy.


Sara said...

I wish our sons could run into each other some time (so long as mine was having a good day). Mine's gotten the same cold shoulder from so many kids -- and adults, who should know better.

We live near Seattle, where people are known for being standoffish, which doesn't help things any...

Anonymous said...

"Hi, Ben!"

We have experienced a similar thing. I'm not sure what it is. I have actually (exasperatedly) said to strangers, "Just say HI to her!!"

Jordan said...

Oh, boy, can I relate. That used to happen to Baxter all the freaking time when he was little in San Francisco. We used to call him The Mayor because he'd greet every child in the sandbox when he got there, and each child in day care upon arrival. He also greeted every adult we passed on the street and it was unbelievable how many of them ignored him. Just shocking - I mean, a small child saying, "Hello!" with a big smile?? What's to ignore. Puh-lease.

I do find people here to be moving more slowly and they are much more likely to greet Lyle when he occasionally gets friendly with strangers. My kids should've been born in reverse order based on where we lived during their younger years.

May more people in Ben's path return that friendly wave - you know we would. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was amazed how well your description matched Connor's experience. Here in the Midwest, adults almost always smile & return the greeting. But kids sense that there is something different, & therefore wrong, in Connor's over-board friendly hello's. They do sometimes sound like an artificial adult who is talking down to a child, something which has perhaps happened to Connor frequently enough in his life for him to imitate it, but he is not socially savvy enough to recognize it as sounding insincere. I try to be as charitable & positive to Connor about the kids who give Connor silence & strange looks when he dramatically greets them, so he stays positive about it also & only thinks of them as "shy" and not as a person who is being mean to him.

Deirdre said...

That's sad....and yet, I am aware that many adults seem somehow unnerved by small kids! I don't know why this is, but it is definitely true.

I am glad that Ben has changed completely, from being socially mute to astoundingly outgoing, in two (or less?) short years.

drama mama said...


What a great way to be.

BCC said...

Wow - this is so different, our kids in such different places. My recently diagnosed 4 y.o. Aspie daughter is uber-shy. She's very popular in that the other kids try to engage her, but she doesn't seem to know how to play back with them. I wish for her sake that she were more outgoing.