Photograph by West Anderson[Image description: The photograph shows the roller coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The photo was taken from above from the ferris wheel. Lights are visible on the roller coaster, the ocean is on the left, and a few people are visible walking on the ground.]
My husband Bob and I have been going to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Sunday afternoons. Neither of us are too keen on the really scary rides, but we love going on the carousel and other more easy-going offerings, and we always make a point to find some good greasy amusement park food while we’re there.
Last Sunday, we decided to go on the bumper cars, and we ended up in line next to a mom and her very clearly neurodiverse kid. He was about ten years old, and he was wearing a sweatshirt with a half-face mask for a hood. He looked rather like a small super-hero, and he was absolutely un-self-conscious about it. He asked me whether I were going to go on the bumper cars and whether I liked them, and we had a very nice time there just hanging in line and chatting.
When it came time to go on the bumper cars, he let his mom get in one car and then he decided that he wanted to go with me. He didn’t ask. He just got in my car! It was lovely to see him so enthusiastic, so friendly, so comfortable with the world. I didn’t get the sense that he was an overly trusting child. He just trusted me because, somehow, he knew he could. He pushed the pedal down, but he wanted me to steer, and we chased his mom and Bob in their cars all over the place. He was laughing up a storm! Then he decided that he wanted to steer, so he took the wheel and chased them too. We had such a blast! He was a great kid — bright, friendly, clearly well-loved and well-parented. His mom was a lovely person too. She was so calm, so sweet, and so supportive of him doing just what he wanted to have a good time. I thanked her and told her what a wonderful kid she has and how much fun it was to hang out with him.
What struck me afterward was how the little guy recognized me as kin. He saw that I’m different and that I’m neurodiverse as well. There was something magical about that afternoon, about that moment of being seen and trusted by a little kid who knew me to be like him. It made me realize that, for many years, I lived my life feeling that there was no one like me in the world — and when you feel that way, you can give up and stop looking. It’s an awful place to be. This little boy hadn’t given up that there are people like him in the world, and that’s a beautiful thing. It means that he will always find his people.
It might take awhile sometimes, and the waiting can be lonely. But he will find us. Of that, I am certain.[Headline image: The photograph shows seven people standing in a circle with their arms locked. They are looking up at the camera. They are various races and ethnicities.]