We have a new intern at work.
His manager stopped by to introduce him, and he seemed like your textbook nerdy guy. He was a bit over-dressed, very awkward, and very nervous. He shook my hand and the first little frission of awareness went up my spine. Don't most people look you in the eye when they shake your hand? He looked at his hand, instead. He greeted my coworker and I exactly the same way, almost as though he were reading from a script.
A scripted response.
I engaged him a bit more, noting his responses, and his overall lack of eye contact. I smiled at him and told him I was happy to help him if he needed anything. He finally walked away, looking around curiously at various notices up on the bulletin boards and stopping to stare a moment at the fire alarm on the wall.
"He's an odd bird," said my coworker.
"He's a nice kid," I said. But I thought, He's autistic. I don't know him. I know nothing about him personally to make an official diagnosis. But if I were a betting woman, I'd take that bet.
He came by again later in the day, and asked me if we had push pins.
"For papers," he said. "I need to put up papers."
"Sure!" I said, reaching for my bowl of push pins. Usually when someone asks, I just shake a few into their open palm and they walk them back to their desk. "Hold out your hand," I said.
He immediately backed up, looking flustered, his hands raised and his fingers moving quickly.
"I can't. I can't. I can't." He said.
Well, of course he couldn't. My son would have flipped if I tried to put push pins in his hand. The sensation of pricking on his palm would have been too uncomfortable.
"It's OK," I said. "Let me get a cup." I grabbed a paper coffee cup from the kitchen, poured some in, and he thanked me.
"Thank you for the pins. I need them for my papers."
"If you need more, just let me know."
"I don't know. I don't have papers yet, but it looks like other people have a lot so I might get some more."
"That's fine," I said, smiling.
He stopped to answer a coworker's hello just then, and he introduced himself with the same script he used for me.
This could be my son. This could be David in 15 years. Unsure, trying to work hard, running the scripts that he knows will work to communicate and trying to fit in. I'll bet this guy is one hell of a worker, too. His attention to detail is probably incredible. Just like David's.
Just like my son.
"Goodbye." He says, still not looking at me, though.
"See you later." He starts to walk away and I said "Glad to have you with us!"
And I am.
You'll never know how glad I am.