Can you ever tell?

This morning, I walked to work, as usual. The weather, the subject of so much small talk on the at times beautiful but still beleaguered isle I call home, was sleety. Wet. Grey. Cold-but-not-that-cold.

And yet, on cars, gardens, and rooftops, there were the still remnants of a light coverage of real snow from the night before. And the sleet, as it fell, still looked like snow. It still fell in that ever-so-erratic, drifting, languid manner that differentiates snow from rain.

Rather than paying attention to the world around me, as I normally do, I was wrapped up in gloomy thoughts on the breaking election results from a country across the ocean from my own.

As I walked along one of the unbroken rows of terraced housing close to my workplace, a boy walked up the path from his front door, out onto the street. Late primary age. Nine or ten years of age, at a guess. Wrapped up against the cold. Thick, black waterproof coat. Bright green bag.

He walked slightly in front of me, and I heard him humming, and possibly talking softly, to himself. I saw him look up at the falling sleet as he walked. His glance was more than a glance – a prolonged, fascinated gaze upwards as he moved. He was far more intent on the sky above than on the route in front of him.

I wondered.

I saw him run a finger through the melting icing-sugar dusting on a car roof, scoop up a little of the white, cold stuff, and hold it in his hands as he walked along, gazing down at it as he moved.

I wondered.

I caught up with him, and passed him. My legs were much longer than his, my stride taking me further more quickly; plus, I was used to needing to get to work on a tight schedule.

I walked in front of him, flicking my fingers (as I often do when I walk, and when no-one’s around), subtly, but perhaps a little more visibly than at times. I neared a garden with a particularly beautiful acer tree, and stopped to inspect the sparkling snow remnants still encrusting the bright red leaves. I cocked my head to one side slightly as I did so, the better to examine more closely the beautiful detail of what I saw in front of me. My glance was more than a glance – a prolonged, fascinated gaze at the flame-bright, bejewelled foliage.

The boy passed me and looked back at me.

He smiled at me. Not the kind of smile I’d expect from most kids of his age, on encountering a person flicking their fingers and gazing close-up at leaves with their head cocked at an angle. He was surely old enough to think my behaviour a little odd. But he appeared not to.

I smiled back.

He carried on walking and, moments later, so did I. We parted ways. I watched his darting, but ever-so-slightly swaying, bobbing gait as he walked away.

I wondered.

Can he tell?

Can you ever tell?

Am I reading too much into the situation?

There seemed to be some solidarity there. Some shared joy in the fascinating details of the everyday, its mundaneness altered somewhat by the change in weather. Some acknowledgement.

Did it matter whether or not both of us shared the same neurotype?

It was nice to think we might possibly have done. It’s always a little surprising, and a source of joy, to come across one of “your own”. But, of course, autistic people do not have the monopoly on fascination with the fine details of our surroundings.

We read what we want to read from a situation.

Even so, to see someone else revelling in the beauty of the everyday was an utter joy to me on such a cold, wet, miserable morning.

[Featured image: ‘Acer’, by coniferconifer]

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