Kirby loves French fries and when we go out to eat many times that’s his meal. Kirby does not like pizza. So at the pizza shop, sometimes fries are the whole meal. Sound familiar? Autism parents can all identify with the weird and limited diet thing. I remember going to a relative’s house one holiday season and Kirby’s 5 year old cousins are eating mixed green salads and other “grown up” food and I’m pulling stuff out of the soft cooler we brought… applesauce cup, juice box, American single white cheese slices, hot dog (pre-cooked and sliced a certain way)… I’m looking at Kirby’s cousins thinking: those kids are eating spinach?! I’m sure my relatives are looking at Kirby and me thinking: wow what a parenting fail. That’s life on the spectrum.
One day the boys and I stopped into a nearby pizza shop for a slice at lunchtime. I noticed the big autism ribbon flag in the window and felt good immediately about our pick. When we got to the table we ordered drinks, some slices and some fries. When the food hit the table, Kirby tucked into the fries and his brother and I enjoyed our slices. It wasn’t very busy and a few minutes later the two owners of the shop were at our table and pretty quickly we were talking autism. The one owner, an autism dad, started tickling and interacting with Kirby quite naturally – as only another autism parent can do. We had a great time and I knew that this would be a “go to” for pizza as it wasn’t too far from the house (even though there’s another pizza shop literally 200 feet from our front door).
So we started turning up occasionally for slices and you know something? Every time we showed up our pizza came with complimentary fries. They’d say: “Kirby loves the fries” (and he does). I kept trying to pay for the fries but was never successful. The one thing about this place is that they didn’t deliver back then. We’d order delivery pizza from another place. One day we went in and they told us that they’d started to offer delivery. Of course we had to switch!
I remember the first order I phoned in – one large cheese (for Kirby’s brother) and one large something else for us grown ups. We had “other stuff” for Kirby for dinner in the ‘fridge. But you know what? Those guys recognized my voice over the phone and when the pizzas arrived there was a brown bag of fries with “Kirby” and big smiley face written on it. My wife cried.
And that’s the “autism nation” at work. We stick together and we help and support each other. We’re on different versions of the same road but we all understand what it’s really like to have the kid at the table who isn’t going to eat what the host prepares – and so much more. And with all of the anarchy that Kirby and his autism can impose on our lives, being a member of “autism nation” means that there’s someone on Facebook or Twitter or even at a nearby pizza shop who I can talk to because they too are a part of autism nation.
This past week we completed the filming for the forthcoming Autism Village Kickstarter. Some was shot at my house, some at Kirby’s autism Scout Troop cabin, and some at that autism dad’s pizza shop. For those of you who don’t know, we’re building an app like Yelp or TripAdvisor but just for the autism community. When you’re in our town, you’ll find VIP Pizza and Pasta in Lionville PA and you’ll know that there’s a pizza shop where you can go and you’ll find owners who are also part of “autism nation” and they’ll make sure you enjoy whatever it is you want to eat. Kirby recommends the fries.