‘He Was Like an Angel’: What Happens When a Man Speaks Sign Language to an Autistic Child
A local mom shared a letter she wrote about shopping with her son in Eureka yesterday. Then we tracked down the salesperson for his explanation.
To whom it may concern,
I had an amazing experience with a local salesman at Famous Footwear in my hometown of Eureka, California. Here is the email that I wrote the corporate office of Famous Footwear….
A voyage for a new pair of shoes for my son, Caden can go a couple of ways.
1.) Online… easy peasy- no hassle BUT the shoes never fit quite right.
2.) Go to the store and actually try shoes on.
#2 won the war tonight. Just Caden and I walking through the mall. He is waving hello to most bystanders and skipping through the food court.
We walk into Famous Footwear. Caden’s shoes are in the back. They have a desirable array of Nike’s in Caden’s size. I grab a couple of sizes. Caden is slowly getting more uncomfortable and visibly anxious. He starts to take some of the shoes and throw them in the box or in the trash.
A worker comes by and asks me if I need any help. I told him that I really wanted to know his true shoe size because it will make it easier in the long run. I tell him that Caden has a difficult time with things like measuring his foot, I, too, am getting uncomfortable because I tell him that today has been hard and maybe the sizing isn’t necessary. He immediately starts using sign language with Caden and talking to him, Caden continues to be anxious and sits down on my lap to hug me. The salesman lowers his voice and looks right at me and says “Autism?” and a lump begins to form in my throat. I can’t get a word out…I’m in the motion of feeling something so strong that all I can do is nod.
He tells me that his nephew has autism and that he gets it. The wall that I put up literally crumbled all around me. I acknowledged to this stranger out loud that this is a very difficult thing for Caden and any help he could provide us would be wonderful. He sat on the floor with Caden and tried on 4 different Nike’s. It took a bit for Caden to trust him, but with his knowledge of sign language it was getting easier. Caden helped Michael get the shoes that he had thrown and also the one he put in the trash. Caden picked the winning shoe and walked hand in hand to the front counter to pay with the salesman.
While he was ringing our purchase up, I signed the receipt and he said that my signature reminded him of a heart beat. He said it is so evident that your heart beats for this little guy right here. I was speechless after that.
To Michael, the salesman at Famous Footwear that has some piercings and a blue mohawk hair style, you made this mom’s heart burst wide open in the car while driving home. You took the time to see my son, you REALLY SAW HIM. You got down on the floor to his level and made it work. We found a pair of bitchin’ red and black Nikes. You saw my brave son and you honored that about him.
Thank you for helping Caden and I get a pair of shoes and on his terms. You were calm and patient and really wanted Caden to feel comfortable, I want to write the corporate office of Famous Footwear and spread the love.
BE KIND ALWAYS
Michael Humphrey, the worker at Famous Footwear, explained that when Caden and his mother came in, he could tell that Caden’s mom was stressed. “I specialize in kids,” he said. “I walked over….I got down to his level. I kept making eye contact with the mom and the kid.”
When he learned that Caden was autistic, Humphrey thought he could try using sign language. “My best friend’s son that I call my nephew has autism.” Humphrey began speaking to Caden with his hands. Caden responded cautiously at first and then eventually he was able to try on shoes. Humphrey said he was glad to help. However, after Caden and his mom left, Humphrey said he didn’t expect to hear anything about it again. But, when he got off work, he discovered that Caden’s mom had written the above letter and posted it on Facebook. A friend saw it and shared it with him.
“I was having a pretty rough day,” Michael said, “Just seeing that…. .” He paused for a moment. “Because I do mixed martial arts, a lot of people have preconceptions.” People, he said, think he’s a tough guy.
Not only did the letter touch his heart, he explained, but, “my phone started blowing up….[Caden’s mom] sent the letter to Corporate. It is kind of surreal.”
“It makes you feel decent about yourself,” he said. “I’m adopted. My mom was a drug addict. I’ve been to hell and back…..I don’t often feel decent about myself.”
He might not often feel good about himself but Caden’s mom knows what she thinks. “He was like an angel,” she said.