It is nice to interact with people when we travel. Some might be the staff at the places we stayed. Some are the folks who sold us tickets, or directed us in the sight-seeing locations we visit.
Interaction with most people is brief, but there are sometimes people who are very special.
Charlie was a tour guide. The day we met Charlie we talked briefly about what we would be doing and seeing, each of us introducing ourselves before we started our tour.
Charlie was knowledgeable and ably led our tour. After a while I started to notice something; Charlie really seemed to know how to talk to the Navigator and how to engage him in the tour.
I was impressed and very happy because the Navigator was having a great time doing something that he initially had not been that interested in doing.
The Navigator was really connecting with Charlie in a way he did not usually connect with people he had just met.
At one point in the tour I had a chance to talk to Charlie alone. “You are doing amazing with the Navigator,” I said. “We didn’t mentioned this before, but he is on the Autism spectrum. You are really a natural at connecting with him.”
Charlie smiled a little shyly. “That’s because I am on the Autism spectrum, too.”
Charlie had realized the Navigator was on the spectrum within minutes after meeting him. When the Navigator and I had stepped away prior to starting the tour, without disclosing the realization Charlie had, on-the-fly, modified the tour to better meet the Navigator’s needs because Charlie had intuitively understood those needs.
As we continued the tour I thought about what this serendipity meant. I was delighted – what a gift Charlie was!
What wonderful luck to have a tour guide on the Autism spectrum who understood what it meant for the Navigator and who was willing to make changes to accommodate him.
And it was more than that. As I watched them interacting I realized I was getting a glimpse of the future, a possible future that I would wish for my son.
I have often thought about what he might do – his education and career goals – and how to prepare him for that. Charlie was an example for the Navigator of what Autism looked like in an adult, in someone he respected and enjoyed.
Until that day, however, I had thought less about with whom he would spend his time.
Charlie was someone I would want the Navigator to spend his time with – someone who really understood him and respected who he was, someone willing to be flexible for him, someone that enjoyed being with him, and that he enjoyed being with.
The kind of friend every parent would wish for their child.
Also published on Medium.