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Randy Weiss: Autism Awareness Month Evokes Memories of ‘Bakersfield Buddies’ Friendship

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and a reminder to me of the unique gifts within each of us — even those who live in a different place than the reality we call our own.

And these often-simple gifts, as you know, are the ones that often have the greatest impact.

Like illustrated here by not one, but two chance meetings with a special boy that touched my life years ago and miles away.

It all started like this:

“Hi, my name is Don,” he said with a big smile.

“Mine’s Randy,” I replied as he reached forward and we shook hands.

There was only one reason to be at this inexpensive hotel in sleepy Bakersfield on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in March.

I sank into the indoor Jacuzzi across from him and the young boy playing with the wet Nerf basketball.

Amid the steam and hot bubbles, I soon asked Don the obvious question: “You guys here for soccer?”

“Yeah, my older son is playing and we are just taking a break between games. This is my younger son, Scott,” he said.

I had been observing Scott for the few minutes it had taken me to settle in. He appeared to be around the same age as my younger daughter, Taryn (then age 10).

The way he was soaking the ball and spinning it in the air reminded me of “The Rings of Jupiter” recently seen at La Colina Junior High School’s Science Night.

“Hi, Scott!” I offered.

“Scott is autistic,” Don replied matter-of-factly and while guiding him over and putting his cherubic face directly in front of me.

“Scott, this is Randy. Can you say hi, Randy?”

With his dad gentling holding his head straight, for an incredible second Scott looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Hi, Randy.”

We connected.

Over the next 20 minutes, Don and I swapped info on family and shared legendary stories of soccer journeys with the kids and stuff like that.

And watching him interact with his son confirmed to me that he was an incredible dad.

When later overwhelmed by my daughter Kelsey’s soccer team joining us in the small Jacuzzi, our quiet time had quickly evaporated.

I wished Don best wishes for success in the soccer tournament.

“Don, you have a very special son and a great kid there,” I added as we shook hands goodbye.

I wondered how many times he, hopefully, had heard this in the past.

Late the next afternoon, I was watching Kelsey’s Riptide soccer team play in the cold rain on Field 15 at Bakersfield’s massive soccer complex, where nearly all 30 fields were in use. Suddenly, I felt a surprise tap on my shoulder.

When I turned around, there was Scott.

Among the soccer pandemonium everywhere, he somehow found me.

Don was just behind him and when he reached me, he shared that Scott had seen me in the distance and announced: “There’s my Randy.”

It felt absolutely wonderful to hear this because it came from his heart.

Don said that it was funny with those who have autism; they sense the ones who accept them and the ones who don’t.

We chatted for a few minutes on the sidelines of this now-meaningless soccer battle with girls sliding all over the muddy field.

“Thanks for coming over to say hi,” I said. “It made me feel special.”

“Well, you are special. You are his friend,” Don replied.

While walking back to the car after the game, I looked over my shoulder to see them off in the distance.

And I thought to myself ...

“I hope you have a great life, Scott. You certainly deserve it, little buddy.”

                                                                  •        •        •

As soon as we returned home to Santa Barbara, I quickly wrote up this story in 15 minutes, as it awakened my long-dormant writing passions.

The very next day, I took a chance and submitted my “first piece” to a local newspaper.

And when Bakersfield Buddies surprisingly published the next month (yes, April), well, it felt sooo good that I’ve haven’t stopped writing since!

Now more than 10 years later, it’s still amazing for me to think about what an impact we can have on others on any normal day — even a little autistic kid, whom I always remember for his special gift, especially at this special time of the year.

— Randy Weiss is local freelance writer and longtime Noozhawk contributing writer. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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