One of the early clues about Roman’s autism diagnosis was his lack of eye contact. Social instincts require participation, and our attention and intentions are evident in our eyes. But Roman learned early on that there’s power and protection in hiding.
I think of Roman’s eyes less like windows to his soul, and more like hidden doorways. His internal bouncer decides if and when to show you the way in, and it doesn’t matter how rich you are, how important you are, or how much leg you show. (Note: the bouncer does look kindly upon motorcycle riders, racecar drivers, people who drive Jeeps, SUVs, the ladies, and those in the construction profession.)
Dodgy people stay behind the velvet rope, and successful entry often costs nothing more than a sincere smile or a spicy salami sandwich. Then you’re off down the twisting funhouse passageways, Roman leading the way past a jumble of front-end loaders, cranes, snow plows, excavators, street sweepers, swimming pools, school buses, octopi, armpits, puppies, bouncy castles, werewolves, buttholes, and Santa. (<-- sorry, Saint Nick!)
Parents become accustomed to planned ignoring (um. Teenagers!), but watching younger Roman’s people blindness was frightening. We were constantly searching for the seam of light edging the doorway, desperate to find a way in. And one day, Jeff stumbled on a key. And it wasn’t made of solid metal- it was made of five flimsy words.
Jeff said, “Let me see Roman inside.” And Romi? Immediately obliged with direct eye contact, a squinty face smile and a high-pitched wincing squeal. Sometimes we’ll count, “Can I please see Roman inside for 3 seconds? … Thank you!”
Behind the full-faced smile, he seems to be straining as if swallowing a foul-tasting medicine. But this connection is brimming with social potential, as our son learns to survive the gaze unscathed.
Kelley & Jeff