Greg had no interest in participating in any school activities, despite everyone’s coaxing. No parties. No dances. No sports. No clubs. No way. Autism kept him more comfortable in his cocoon.
His impetus to tip-toe out of his comfort zone and into a social scene came from an unlikely source – Jason, his rival for Noni’s attention.
Flirtatious Jason made no secret that he was head over heels for Noni – and all the girls. His clapping and jumping up and down in their presence gave him away, while Greg observed, rocking quietly and sometimes not so quietly.
He didn’t sit still for long, however. His schoolboy crush or maybe jealousy, no matter, got the best of him, nudging him to join the crowd.
I’ve always told my kids, “I don’t much care what motivates you to be good, whether it’s the love of your mother or the fear of your father (In our house, they might argue it’s the other way around:). Whatever works!”
Greg ventured first to Saturday bowling and then to the homecoming dance, easing himself into the social activities that drew Noni, Jason, and their school friends together.
Stepping out senior year, he asked Noni to the prom and post prom, and the two social butterflies closed the place down at 4:30 in the morning! A metamorphosis.
Years later as young adults, they look forward every week to bowling with a group of favorite friends, having fun, feasting on fries, and high-fiving at every strike and spare.
Greg’s soft spot for Noni trumps his social anxiety, motivating him from within, without anyone’s pushing and prodding.
These two friends met in an inclusive middle school that mixed students without disabilities and those with all kinds of disabilities, operating on the principle that inclusive schools give us the opportunity for inclusive societies.
This environment brought together a boy with autism and a girl with mental retardation, like the magnetic pull of polar opposites.
Clueless about autism, Noni sees nothing strange in Greg’s behavior. She chats him up, and he cracks her up. Sometimes she puts her arm around him gently and moves in nose to nose to calm him, oblivious that she’s infiltrating his personal space, but he let’s her, trustingly.
They are yin and yang, in disability and friendship.