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La Plaza: Where Charlie Could Be Charlie

Raising a child with autism is a lesson in rejection. People often think that people with autism don’t have the same depth of feelings as others and aren’t close to those around them. At least in our case, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our son Charlie is passionately close to his family and also felt the rejection by those in his community deeply.

One person on this earth never rejected Charlie, no matter how autistic his behavior, and that was Henry. For many years now, La Plaza has been the only restaurant Charlie could comfortably handle going to and a large part of that was due to Henry’s acceptance of him. This acceptance of my son made me also comfortable going there and I never had to be on edge as we enjoyed our meals. This is the reason why all of my kids’ family birthday meals were there, why Charlie’s high school graduation party, and why our regular family outings are all at La Plaza.

There are so many examples I could give of Henry’s welcoming of Charlie, but one specifically stands out. My kids and I were sitting at a table in a far corner of the restaurant. It was nearly empty when we got there, but gradually the dinner crowd came in and it got louder and louder. Charlie became overwhelmed and started to scream. Luckily it was actually so loud that I could barely hear him, but I knew that it would be nearly impossible to get him out through the busy restaurant without causing a disruption to the other diners.

So I did what I’ve done many times. I put Charlie on the floor and lay on top of him, covering his ears with a scarf and providing him soothing deep pressure with my body. I also put a fast acting anti anxiety medication under his tongue. He lay there crying for about 10 minutes while it took effect.

What did Henry do during this time? Brought me my check and took my money from me on the floor. Then he brought me a shot of tequila of course. Then another because of sure looked like I needed an extra one! As we were finally able to shuffle out, Henry made sure to tell me that we were welcome back to his restaurant any time. He always told me that — Charlie is ALWAYS welcome here.

Charlie is close to graduating from college with degrees in Math and Computer Science. He is determined to go to work in the intelligence community to serve his country and make the world a better place. I credit some of his success to his many times enjoying meals at La Plaza where he could feel comfortable out in the community that didn’t always feel like it welcomed him.

As we move through our lives we should remember that there are many types of people and circumstances and try to be less judgmental. In other words, the whole world should be more like Henry and La Plaza.

E.V. Downey is an educational consultant based on Capitol Hill. In addition to helping families navigate the school system, she is also a private tutor specializing in students with dyslexia and ADHD.

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