"I think that's one of ours." Stu points out a boy in the audience of a Starfish concert wearing large noise-canceling headphones.
"Maybe," I reply.
We play this game a lot: try to spot the kids with autism in whatever public space we find ourselves in. Some kids are easy to pick out - obvious stimming, toe-walking, telltale speech patterns. I assume we don't spot them all - hopefully some, or most, are able to blend into a crowd.
While playing this game, I try to observe Ryan objectively. Does he stand out? Would another mother of a child with autism be able to tag him as "one of ours?" Can he pass for neurotypical?
Before the concert began, I sized up the kiddie crowd. Dozens of kids age six and under. Most of them were standing at the foot of the stage, staring at the lights, talking to each other. Some were stomping up and down the stairs, or sitting on laps. Ryan was walking around the theater, taking it all in. He didn't strike me as unusual; I wondered if others thought the same.
When the band took the stage, Ryan joined the other children standing in the orchestra. He was in total rapture staring at the lights; actually, he looked a little stoned. (Dude! The colors!) He alternated between watching the musicians intently and turning his back on them. The casual observer might think he was checking out the audience behind him, but I know he likes to briefly look away from what he's paying attention to. I don't know why he does this; I think he enjoys playing with his peripheral vision.
The typical kids were dancing, holding hands, jumping around in a mini mosh pit. Ryan mostly stood still, taking it all in, too cool to dance, for a couple of songs. He was blending in pretty well.
Then he started crawling.
He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled through the other children, away from us, until he was intercepted by my cousin Stephanie, who got him to stand up and dance with her for a moment. He ran a few laps up the center aisle , down the steps, around the seating area, and back to the mosh pit.
He had me pick him up for a song, then he sat on Stu's shoulders for a song, then danced for ten seconds, then crawled back into my arms and rested his head on my face. I wondered if this looked within the realm of typical - if sleepy - kid behavior.
Then he threw himself on the floor and begged us to open the emergency exit.
We took him for a walk outside. He found ten square feet of trees, which he happily treated like a forest. I don't (much) care if he may have tripped someone else's AutDar - I was very pleased that he had been able to tell us he needed to get out of there.
And we later decided that the boy with the headphones was not one of ours; he and his brother - also in headphones - were just typical kids whose father wanted to protect their eardrums from overly-amplified music, and didn't care if he had to make his kids stand out to do it.