Braden (pronounced like Brad-Inn) is my son. Back when I first wrote this story he was 12. Braden has autism.
He was almost done with 7th grade. He loved riding his bike more than just about anything. But this story is about his love of dancing.
Let me back up a little bit – Braden’s Mom (my wife) loves dancing. And Braden sees her dancing all the time. So he’s accustomed to loud music and he knows what dancing looks like. But when I say that Braden loves dancing I don’t mean it in a girlie way. He’s no Tinker Bell. He just digs dancing and loud dance tracks.
One of Braden’s teachers in the Cascade School District had been a true champion for him for multiple years. Her name was Ms. Doherty and we’ve never seen another teacher like her. I had ran into Ms. Doherty outside Safeway one night and she told me about a school dance coming up at the end of the week. She said we should send Braden.
“Meh. I don’t know,” I remarked, “We don’t know who’d watch him and keep an eye on him all night. And we don’t know if he’ll want to go and if he’ll want to stay long enough to make it worth our time sending him.” We couldn’t go with him. Braden wouldn’t want his parents there. He’d be telling us to leave. We knew we needed someone to watch him while he was there and it couldn’t be us. Sending Braden to a school dance was taking a big risk in our eyes.
Ms. Doherty made it clear that she’d watch him, telling me not to worry, he would do great. Braden had been learning how to dance in school. One of his electives was dance and he really enjoyed it. OK, we decided we would send him. We trust Ms. Doherty and we love her like family.
Friday night, January 30, 2015 the evening of the dance came. We arranged to have Braden picked up and taken to the dance. He didn’t know what was going on until 15 minutes prior. With the way his brain works, me and my wife couldn’t tell him any sooner. He would drive us bonkers talking about it all the way up until departure time, whether he wanted to go or not. Braden tends to fixate on things. Anyway, so he went.
Fast forward; About an hour before the end of the dance, me and my wife decided to go to the school and see what was happening. We were trying to be patient but we were in suspense. Was Braden OK? Was he miserable? Were girls dancing with him? Was he alone on the dance floor acting a fool? We didn’t know what to expect. All kinds of thoughts ran through our heads.
When we arrived at the school gym and walked inside we were treated to the most beautiful thing we saw in years. Braden was not only dancing and having a good time, but girls were all around him, dancing with him. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have noticed that this kid had autism. He looked like everyone else! His mannerisms and erratic hand movements blended in like camouflage. It was beautiful. Tears come to my eyes as I write these words even now. And that night, me and my wife sat there on the wooden bleachers in the gym, surrounded by darkness, flashing lights, loud music and kids – and we cried. And we smiled. But we couldn’t talk. Braden was so involved with dancing and everything that was going on around him. He didn’t see us there. We just sat there for a little bit and watched him. After a few songs we got up and snuck out, hoping not to blow our cover.
We later learned that Braden was the first one on the dance floor that night. And he never left the dance floor. He danced all night and several kids, both girls and boys, danced with him or beside him. Girls danced slow with him and girls danced fast with him. He absolutely LOVED it.
As parents of a kid with autism, me and my wife will remember Braden’s first school dance forever. It was one of those things we’ll never forget and yet one of those things that we never thought we’d see. When the next school dance comes around you can bet Braden will be there, ready to cut a rug!
(I took the picture of him you see at the far top. I walked right by him, but with all the flashing lights he didn’t notice I was his Dad.)