In this series of posts I will be writing tributes to a number of autistic people I have known throughout my life who have inspired me in some way.
A neighbour of mine sometimes hosts parties in his back garden. They are memorable affairs, partly because of the excellent firework displays he includes at the end of the evening. On this occasion, about thirteen or fourteen years ago, there was man at one of these parties who I had never met before-and have never met since.
I don’t remember whether he was attending with friends or family. I would have placed him somewhere in his thirties. He was a tall man with red hair and a red beard, but the most striking thing about him was what he’d brought with him: a replica of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber from the film Return of the Jedi.
It was actually a very appropriate addition to the light show. This was not some cheap toy: it was an exact copy of the weapon in the film, the hilt reproduced beautifully and the blade made from fiberglass. It made screen-accurate sounds when ignited, producing a low hum and a green glow that lit up the darkness around us.
Okay-I won’t geek out any further, I promise. The man’s name was Ridwond. A very unusual name, I thought, certainly more befitting of a space-wizard than a resident of Planet Earth. He was quietly-spoken and a little awkward, but the two of us soon started talking Star Wars, at which point I saw a different side of his personality.
It’s amazing how we autistics come out of our shells when somebody engages us in a conversation that interests us. It’s worth noting that there was something about Ridwond: he drew people to him and he made them laugh, with him and not at him: he was a great example of how difference can be a positive trait to possess.
I later discovered (from my father who had met him before) that Ridwond lived only a few minutes from my primary school and had Aspergers. The second of those two facts did not surprise me even as a child: he was (and is) one of the most interesting adults I have ever met.