Friday morning, I showed Clay the article I wrote about him in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but, in all honesty, he was more interested in why his waffles weren’t out of the toaster oven, yet. Knowing that he is always listening and absorbing, though, we kept him updated throughout the weekend on the activity and comments.
The response to the article was overwhelming.
For a good portion of the weekend, the article was the second most shared item on the Inquirer’s Web site (and the most read in the opinion section). More than 300 people recommended it on Facebook. Traffic to this blog hit more than 10 times the typical number, and continued much heavier than normal throughout the weekend.
The article was touted on Twitter and even appeared in the Associated Press newsfeed. The number of Clay’s fans on Facebook more than doubled. And, most important, comments flooded in to the blog, the Inquirer, the Life with Clay Facebook page and via email. There was a wonderful, warm outpouring from parents, teachers, family, friends and even people who hadn’t before understood autism.
Some shared the hope that their child will learn to communicate, like this father of a three-year-old: “I too have an autistic boy. He has not spoken yet and as each day goes by I wonder if I will ever hear him say Daddy. I will continue to follow your blog and if he never speaks … no big deal … there are other ways to “talk”!! Thanks.”
Others shared successes of their own, like this parent: “My son is 13 with autism and he is verbal but not able to communicate needs or express feelings. I recently gave him a laptop and I too learned there was a very smart person in there with a lot to say. He also uses a cell phone to text me and does so very well.”
Some talked about how their child, too, boasts intelligence and a sense of humor, like the parents of a 20-year-old who noted that the first thing their son typed was: “I am not stupid.” He has been typing for six years now, and provided some funny (and rather salty) moments for them. Another parent shared that their child is a whiz at knock knock jokes.
Others pointed out how their child has similar quirks, like one whose son throws away Pringles containers whenever he sees them or another who draws many, many Dunkin’ Donuts pictures.
Some shared memories of Clay, like this from one of his preschool teachers who last saw him when he was four: “I clearly remember those beautiful eyes and that wonderful smile. When you teach, some children remain with you through the years—they have a permanent spot in your heart. And, Clay is one of those students for me.” (“A really nice letter,” Clay typed after we read it to him.)
And some were from close friends, like this: “Clay is so wise beyond his years!!! Please tell him that I am printing his quote as inspiration for me when I’m having Dark Days.” (Clay’s response when we read this to him: “So happy to give you hope.”)
There was even a generous offer of some toy trucks from a man in public relations at Penske Trucks, who read with interest of Clay’s early obsession with the brand.
Clay seemed to take his status of king for the weekend in stride. Thankfully, when he and his Mom took a trip to the local health food store for weekly supplies, there were no paparazzi lurking nearby. Of course, I was wondering what he thought of all this, so we managed to pry the newly minted celebrity out from under his comforter Sunday morning for a hastily called session with the local media (my wife and me).
“Really awesome that we are that social,” he typed, in answer to our request for his feelings on all of the buzz. “So thrilled to socialice [sic] with people.”
Since he conducted this session in his pajamas, I like to think that this recent notoriety has not changed the little guy’s basic humility, his connection with the common folk—like his parents. Only time will tell.