I was sitting at an AC/DC concert being prepared to get my pants rocked off, but instead I was listening to a man pour his heart and soul out to me about his son with autism.
It was the first time I’ve seen Hayden speechless. Mark and I sat him on the couch and told him that for his birthday, we were taking him to an AC/DC concert in Atlanta. After Hayden stared at his tickets, he asked, “Do you mean the real group?” We assured him that it wasn’t a joke. “Yes Hayden, the real rock group and you’re pretty close to the stage too,” as I showed him where he would be sitting. Still in a daze, Hayden nodded and thanked us for the birthday gift. Since this would be Hayden’s first rock concert, I could tell that he still couldn’t wrap his mind around what he was about to experience.
The night had arrived. With my “mommy” travel purse strapped across my chest, Hayden and I said our goodbyes and we headed to the concert. “Mom, I can’t believe we are about to see AC/DC. I have loved their music since I was in 4th grade!” I nodded to agree with him as I clenched his hand while we walked through the heart of Atlanta. We certainly were not in Fort Benning anymore as I looked around the large crowd that was going to the same place we were headed.
After purchasing every AC/DC item of Hayden’s choosing, we headed over to find our seat. A few men patted my shoulder from behind after Hayden and I had been talking about the arena and how big it was. “Excuse me, are you his Mom?” Hayden looks back, “Yes sir, she’s my Mom.” The man, who looked to be in his late 50’s says, “Really!? You’re the coolest Mom ever! Can I take a picture of you and send it to my Mom?” Of course, I had to oblige because I was reveling in the fact that someone said I was a cool Mom around my son.
About 15 minutes before the concert was to start, a man came to the aisle and sat down next to me, on the other side of Hayden. He kept looking over at Hayden and I as we talked about how we got to the concert and about our cool hotel. The man asked us where we were from and if Hayden was my only child. I told him that my son, Broden, was with his father in the hotel because he would most likely not enjoy the concert due to the loud noise because he had autism.
These days, when I say Broden has autism, I expect a few responses. They either apologize because they don’t know what else to say, they talk about someone else that they know of who has a child with autism or they assume I have a medical degree and ask me what I think causes autism. People rarely surprise me anymore. Except for this night. “You have a son with autism? How old is he? Is he potty trained? Does he talk and does he do ABA therapy? Is he in a typical classroom? Aren’t you exhausted?” I was taken aback with all the questions and struggled to keep up with everything he was asking me. He put his hand on my arm. “I have a son with autism. He’s a teenager and I’m exhausted. I have five children and my marriage is in shambles. We basically send our son to school for a break because we’ve given up on fighting for a better education for him. We are just surviving”.
I didn’t know what to say. I was sitting at an AC/DC concert being prepared to get my pants rocked off with Hayden by the most awesome rock band ever, but instead I was listening to a man pour his heart and soul out to me about his son with autism. After talking a while, he turned to me and apologized. “I don’t know why I’m saying all of this to you. I don’t know you.” I assured him that it was ok and the reason why he felt comfortable talking to me is because I understand. I could tell he hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to a lot of other people who also had children with autism. He looked tired, hopeless, and alone.
He told me he went to the AC/DC concert by himself because his other children, who were typical, did not want to go with him and were not big fans of AC/DC. Personally, I thought that was a crime in of itself. Who doesn’t like AC/DC? I assured him that he was not the crazy one, only his children who didn’t want to see this amazing concert were crazy.
My heart hurt for this man. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t take his pain away and I didn’t even know how to start talking to him about repairing his marriage. I only said one thing. “I didn’t ask for Broden to have autism, but I love him because he’s my son. I still have to live my life and try to give Hayden opportunities for him to live a normal life as much as possible. That’s why we’re here. This was Hayden’s night. Autism was not going to win tonight.” He looked over at Hayden and forced a half smile. As soon as I started to talk again, the concert started.
After two hours of pure rock heaven, the concert eventually ended. After hugging Hayden and enjoying his look of excitement, I looked over to the man on my left. I told him goodbye and said we were supposed to sit together tonight and we were supposed to talk about autism. He nodded and agreed with me. Of all the people in the stadium, he sat next to me. That was not an accident. Months later, I still think about him. I wish I could have said more to comfort him. I hope he feels he’s not so alone as he did before that night because he’s not. We’re all just like him, just trying to do the best we can.•
“I didn’t ask for Broden to have autism, but I love him because he’s my son. I still have to live my life and try to give Hayden opportunities for him to live as normal life as possible. That’s why we’re here. This was Hayden’s night. Autism was not going to win tonight.”
PUZZLES & CAMO
Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Benning, GA. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners.