Autism-Proof Love

I gave public speaking a whirl from an honest-to-gods formica podium last Friday, and truth be told, I was - actually - completely prepared to present at Southern Maine Community College’s local version of Shark Tank. (It wasn’t like my college days at all!)

I had practiced my Kid Gigawatt pitch for weeks – while washing dishes, running errands in the car, out walking with my headphones on, in the shower, before going to bed at night, when waking up in the morning, whilst on a boat with a goat, and in a house with a mouse. (I think the record will show that Dr. Seuss never goes out of style.) And I clocked my pitch at 6 minutes, 21 seconds. Exactly.

I made a slide of cute mustachioed Roman so he’d be there with me in spirit, and Jeff, the kids and I made a video of the Romanator especially for the audience. Jeff was sitting in the front row, ready to be my fail-safe, and I had printed up a version of the speech for him to read – just in case.

And as I stood behind the podium in Jewett Hall, on the cusp of being officially introduced, I really did feel ok. Sort of like I had just mainlined a gallon of espressos, but yet not quite converging on a heart attack. And when I heard my name, I smiled, looked out on to the audience, and froze.

There was laughter, crying, and awkward silences – and that was just me! <-- I actually cried. A kindly lady from the audience appeared by my side and furtively handed me a pack of tissues before retaking her seat. The emcee sidled over to give me a deeply appreciated arm hug. I took loud, deep breaths, and gripped my husband with my pleading eyeballs- help me! But he was confident, and his smile never wavered. So I soldiered on. And finished, about a decade a few minutes later. Without spiking the ball. Or as my grandma used to say, "here, not braggin'."

And even though there was blood in the metaphorical water, the sharks on this panel didn't bite. The the first one said “What you have here is a crusade, and I’m in.” The remaining three sharks were "in" as well, and my mentor jumped up and gave me a huge hug, assuring me that she had goosebumps.

But honestly? I think everyone else felt a little bad for me. Because while my love for Romi is autism-proof, apparently my fear of public speaking isn’t podium-proof. And I kinda beefed it. (<-- No judgment.)

And I wondered what Roman would have thought, had he been there. He doesn’t like it when I cry (Damn you, NPR driveway moments! *pounds fist on steering wheel*). And then the thought came to me that perhaps that uncontrollable, fight or flight feeling of being observed, judged, parsed – the very thing that first creeped into my voice as a tiny waver, but that quickly became an unmistakeable quiver, followed by red cheeks and glossy eyes – maybe that’s the overwhelming feeling my little man has just getting on the school bus every weekday morning.

And it made me feel so grateful for the amazing team of therapists and teachers that he's had up until now, and that he continues to have on the daily – from the super nice neighbor kids who help Roman forget his anxiety by fake-racing him onto the bus in the morning, to his one-on-one aide who is never seen without a smile on her face (despite Roman’s intermittent swearing, bolting, and shoe launching insurgencies), to his hard-working teachers at school (determined to teach him to read and write), to his kindly bus driver (who sends Romi off the bus in the afternoon with treats for our dog), to his beloved in-home support staff (who meets him off the bus every day with a big grin on her face). And I’m equally grateful for the dedicated staff at the swimming pool on Tuesdays, for his unbelievably positive occupational therapist on Wednesdays, and for the friendly instructors and volunteers who side-walk with him at therapeutic horseback riding on Saturdays.

Because when you’re feeling anxious? A heartfelt smile - is EVERYTHING.



PS I’m available for speaking gigs – all I require is a holodeck. And M&Ms at will- only the green ones. Obviously.

PPS Do you want to live in a world where people are more than labels and normal isn’t?  - AND - Do you want to help me avoid future podium trainwrecks? I’d be obliged if you helped spread the Kid Gigawatt word via your social networks. My bruised self-esteem thanks you. ;)

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