December 6, 2018
After rehearsal tonight, the director had everyone sit on stage so he could discuss things about the musical. As he was talking, an assistant handed the actors a piece of paper. The director said the paper contained information concerning the sensory friendly show they would be performing. He briefly explained that sensory sensitive people are scared by sudden loud noises and unexpected movements.
When he was finished, he asked if anyone had questions. Atticus raised his hand. “Can I tell you something interesting about myself?” He asked. The director nodded. With a frightened tone, Atticus asked, “Do you promise you won’t fire me?” Everyone laughed – except Atticus. The director promised not to fire him, and Atticus said, “I have autism.”
The director appeared shocked by the news and said, “Oh, so you know about sensory issues.”
Atticus said he does.
The above picture was taken before tonight’s rehearsal. I sat in the balcony watching as Atticus once again tried to find his way in this world – following an older, teen actor around and wanting to fit in. But he ended up where he always ends up – alone or trying to connect with an adult – because connections with peers rarely go beyond a greeting.
Other children will talk to him and include him in a game if asked. They don’t shun him. Some even attempt real conversation. “What are reading, Atticus?” They ask. He will tell them the name of the book. “Oh, that sounds interesting. What’s it about?” Then Atticus will attempt to tell them every little detail about the book. Meanwhile, they mentally drift away and soon begin discussions with others around them as he continues to speak – the connection lost. He returns to reading his book. He doesn’t understand small talk. I don’t know if he ever will.
Several years of therapy has taught him how to properly greet people. How to say goodbye. But how do you teach the stuff in the middle? How do you teach real connection? They instruct him on how to read body language, facial expressions, and tone, but his brain doesn’t register the simple things we take for granted.
He’s eleven years old. He’s realizing how different he is. “I’m not like other kids.” He says. No, you’re not. You are very different. It’s going to take someone really special to understand your value and to love your unique ways.
I’ve been praying for two someones special for years. I pray for one male friend to love him, protect him, and stand by his side throughout this lifetime. And for the future wife, who I pray God will provide – a godly woman who will understand him, love him, support him, and accept both his brilliant and difficult ways.
After Atticus shared that he’s autistic, his fellow cast members applauded him. When they left the stage, one of the adult actors walked over to Atticus, patted him on the back, and said, “Good for you for speaking up.” Atticus simply said, “Thank you.”
I could sense his relief. I think Atticus has wanted to tell everyone for a while, and decided this would be the perfect time. But I think he was most relieved to know that he was still accepted by this group of strangers even after revealing his “secret.”