We were vacationing at a time-share condo complex a few years ago when our Asperger's (AS) son, Marc, was 15 years old. Marc is an attractive young man with an upbeat, positive and friendly personality. He is small in stature for his age, and often is more comfortable hanging out with younger kids who have similar interests.
His faux leather jacket, jeans, white t-shirt and emerging dark facial hair appearance could cause suspicion, but not to anyone who knows Marc. The parents of his younger friends have never expressed concern about Marc, except for his habit of leaving his bike, kayak, and fishing equipment out in their yards.
He asked Marc if he was at the playground, and approached a couple of boys with a hypodermic needle in his guitar case. Marc answered no, with an expression of surprise on his face. I wasn't sure where the awkward conversation was going to lead. The officer seemed to be becoming more ‘on-guard.’ I knew Marc would never harm anyone and certainly would not have possession of drug paraphernalia, but he had never been questioned by police before.
He reacted calmly and methodically when his uncle had a diabetic emergency, preparing orange juice with sugar for him while others were trying to think of what to do. He was certainly innocent. But would he be able to correctly and quickly interpret the officer’s intent? Would he be able to relieve the building tension before it got to the point where Marc was unable to keep up with the confusing rapid-fire signals coming in? Or would he simply shut down and stare blankly at the officer as if he was stuck, struggling to formulate his fictional story with enough detail to be convincing?
I turned to the officer and said, "He has Asperger’s." I expected to give a bit more explanation, but the moment the words left my mouth, the officer changed his stance and facial expression to a smile. He then extended his hand toward Marc to shake hands and in a calm and friendly voice, he introduced himself and began to explain that the two boys at the playground thought Marc had a hypodermic needle and told their parents. As Marc began to understand, he realized the boys mistook the protruding sticks from the lollipops in the pocket of his guitar case. The officer chuckled a bit, shook Marc's hand again, wished us all a nice day, and left to let the alarmed parents know it was just a misunderstanding.
Marc understands that he has some wonderful abilities like to read and memorize encyclopedias from cover to cover, and to recognize, describe and explain just about every plant and animal native to our area. And with those come some challenges like organizing and the ability to differentiate between long-term and short-term goals.
He always knew he was “different.” Understanding why has been key to maintaining a very positive self-esteem and outlook.