We made it up the steps to our local high school and into the lobby when Clay pulled up short. We could hear the music pounding in the cafeteria. Some sort of techno beat. Clay let out an agitated bark and bolted down the hall in the other direction. It was Friday night, and the school was deserted except for the dance.
Clay managed to push through a set of swinging doors and run most of the way down a long hallway lined with lockers before we caught up with him. He was stamping his feet, crying and pacing like a caged tiger sensing meal time.
We nudged him into a quiet stairwell and whipped out the keyboard.
“What is wrong?”
“OK. We know this is a new situation and a little scary. We can see if they will turn down the music a little.”
After a little more pacing, we headed back toward the cafeteria. This time, he shot right in while my wife was registering and, before I could catch him, he entered the girl’s bathroom. My wife managed to extract him from there (fortunately it was empty), and we sat at one of the tables in the farthest corner of cafeteria for a bit. And so it went. For the next 15-20 minutes, Clay circled the dance floor with me, my wife or his teacher on his heels to steer him back toward the action. Twice he disappeared, and we found him out in the lobby sitting on a bench away from the noise.
At long last, while I sat there dripping with sweat and out of breath, Clay’s teacher got him onto the dance floor for the electric slide, a dance they had been practicing all week. Note the smile on his face.
He followed this number with the chicken dance. The little guy is a chip off the old block when it comes to that my-feet-are-stuck-in-cement dancin’ rythym. I’d like to say we all danced long into the night, but after about an hour and 15 minutes, Clay typed “Go home” on the keyboard when asked if he wanted to stay or leave, and we said our goodbyes. Clay’s first dance, courtesy of a group called the Autism Cares Foundation that works to make sure the autistic support kids have social events similar to the other students. Special thanks also to his teacher, his speech therapist and physical therapist for working so hard to make sure Clay had a good time. Next stop: Dancing with the Stars.