Fist bump, Hot Potato defuses threat that wasn’t

6a00e54ffe2ad38833013481f8a84c970c-400wiMy 13-year-old autistic son, Rocco, is having a rough summer vacation.

The hormonal demands of puberty make Rocco irritable and unpredictable. He’s gotten tall, strong, and fast, and I can’t always keep up with him. He’s a young man with a mind of his own, and sometimes his mind turns toward teen rebellion.

We visited several stores during our recent Jersey shore vacation, and Rocco jostled other shoppers a few times because he wasn’t paying attention. Another time he cut in front of someone at the Acme checkout line. I apologized, but the next guy in line made a rude comment.

I was nervous when Rocco and I entered a crowded Wawa convenience store. Rocco was really over-stimulated, and the Wawa was packed. My son paced the store several times before I could maneuver him into the checkout line.

I was mortified when Rocco again cut in line. This guy in front of us was enormous and looked fierce. I’m a big guy myself, but this dude was three times my size.

48b049d7f415cf2c5434ed0af8fea52cRocco reached across the guy’s arm and bumped into him several times. I tossed a $20 on the counter and hoped the cashier would hurry.

Giant Man turn around to face me. His expression was unreadable, but his fist was aimed at my chest.

“Oh, hey! Sorry about my son. We didn’t mean to cut in front of you. He’s a little…impatient.”

Maybe I should have said something about my son’s autism, but I was on vacation and didn’t feel like explaining the basics of a pervasive developmental disorder to everyone in the crowded Wawa.

Giant Man didn’t say anything, just stood there with his fist leveled at my chest. It was the size of a Christmas ham. It would really hurt if he punched me.

“Put out your hand,” he said.

“Hey, blow it up!” I replied. I gave Giant Man a fist bump, and then wiggled my fingers while mimicking the sound of an explosion. He did not seem amused.

“Put out your hand,” he said again. In my head it sounded like, ‘put up your dukes.’ This was bad.

“Hot potato!” I said. I bumped the top and bottom of his fist with mine, hoping to defuse the situation with schoolyard humor. “You win!”

Giant Man shook his head, stepped aside, and pointed to the cash register.

“I have your change from the little chute thingie,” he said. “If you open your hand, I’ll give it to you.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Thanks.”

Giant Man dropped the coins into my palm, and Rocco and I sheepishly left the Wawa. The guy didn’t seem bothered by my son’s behavior at all.

This episode brings to mind three important lessons:

  1. Looks are deceiving. Just because you appear big and tough doesn’t mean you are. My son looks normal a lot of the time, but he’s not. In fact, I’m not sure I know anyone who is.
  2. Your kid annoys you more than those around him. Parents of autistic children are hypersensitive to their kid’s strange and potentially distracting behaviors, but most other people don’t even notice.
  3. People are more forgiving than you’d expect, and when they do see something weird going on, they usually go with the flow.

Except for that jerk in line at the Acme.