Sunday morning Stephen wore black dress pants, a white button-down dress shirt and a black satin bow tie to church. There was no special occasion. In fact most people at our church wear jeans or even sometimes shorts, but that really didn’t matter to Stephen. He wanted to wear a bow tie and the black satin one that went with his brother’s tuxedo was the only one in the house, so, it was the one he wore.
He looked like a James Bond look-alike with his long, lean silhouette. He didn’t care that he would be the only person dressed so formally. It was what he wanted to wear.
I’m reminded of when he was younger and I made a Larry Boy costume for him for a birthday party. He loved the costume and wanted to wear it all the time. We have pictures of him sight seeing in St. Louis on a family vacation in his Larry Boy suit (complete with cape!). We even talked our nephew out of having Stephen as his ring bearer because we were afraid he would insist on wearing the Larry Boy costume in the wedding!
I love that he is so unconcerned with what other people think about how he looks. It has provided a lot of protection for him from potential cruelty during his childhood and early teen years. But, there is also an element that he has to learn that deals with his sensitivity to the feelings of others. And that lesson does not come naturally to him because those with Asperger Syndrome have a very difficult time putting themselves in someone else’s place.
When Stephen decides he wants something, he obsesses. This happened most recently with a black trench coat. He wanted to use his dad’s khaki one, but he looked a little too much like Agent Smart. When we came across a black all-weather type coat with a zip-out lining at a reasonable price, he had to have it. He bought the coat and wore it home, even though it was sunny and the temperature outside was in the upper 80’s. He was very pleased with his purchase so we discussed what temperature conditions were appropriate for wearing the coat in hopes that he would not want to wear it every day.
The sensitivity training came in a few months later after a young man dressed entirely in black opened fire in a Colorado movie theater killing 12 and injuring many more. It is times like these when people are reminded of young men in long black coats opening fire on classmates and perpetrating acts of violence. Does this have anything to do with Stephen in particular? No. Should it impact his choice to wear a long black trench coat, black pants and a black hat to church on a cloudy summer day when it might rain? I believe it should and it is my job to explain to him why.
While I may not be able to expect Stephen to fully understand the emotions that surround events like the shooting in Aurora, and the long lasting effects they have on people, I can teach him some reasons why acting in a certain way or dressing in a certain way makes other people uncomfortable and give him some guidelines to follow. And I look forward to the next gloomy, chilly day when it is perfectly acceptable for Stephen to wear his raincoat and hat to school, even though he will have to take it off before he enters the building because it is a school rule.