This was the elementary student who sat alone at lunch and stood by the door at recess afraid of thunderstorms, bugs and the possibility of an ill-fated social encounter.
This was the middle schooler who almost didn't audition for Chambers Singers because it was new and taking risks was too much for him to handle. The middle schooler who couldn't wear cargo shorts and khaki pants like all the other kids because his body just wouldn't allow it.
This was a new high school freshman who felt like he was invisible and that no one knew he existed within the walls of his high school. The freshman who believed he had no future because he is autistic.
This is a teenager who still worries about taking risks (because sometimes things don't go as you plan), but, overcame that worry and took a risk by auditioning for his high school musical where he has never danced a step in his life. A teenager who once felt like he didn't belong yet now declares his fellow cast members "family". A teenager who told his directors and his parents that he has "never felt so confident and proud of himself in his entire life" as he did tonight on that stage taking risks.
This is my autistic son. Crushing stereotypes, destroying fallacies, proving "experts" wrong and showing every single person on that stage and in that audience the real meaning behind, "different, not less". The most important person he proved that to, was himself.
The lady clinging to this teenager is his mother. A mother who felt her face would crack from smiling every time he walked onto that stage. A mother who remembers the toddler that struggled with change, the little boy who was so worried and anxious, the middle schooler who wanted to find his place, and the new freshman who felt so isolated and hopeless. A mother who now sees a teenager demonstrating confidence, pride and joy in a way the two of them once only dreamed about, by taking a risk, by stepping way outside his comfort zone and by believing in himself.