Cracks in Pavements

Throughout the 1990s (and to a lesser extent for a further decade) I worked with children who were on the autistic spectrum. In this poem, first published in 1994 by the National Autistic Society, (NAS), I imagine being parent to such a child – all too often quite misunderstood: a child who experiences information overload in almost every waking moment; a child who sees and responds to the world differently from his or her peers; a child, in fact, who is “differently abled”.

My Son

Someone smiled at him just now

When we were coming back from town

With Safeway bags bulging—

When we were trudging


Up the heavy steps to our front gate—

Someone smiled at him;

At a boy dreamy-eyed and humming, as he swung

The shopping, counting the cracks in the pavement


So he could tell his dad

The definitive count,

And no mistaking—

But someone smiled at him


And he lost count,

Cringed back against the wall,

Howled, howled

Like a parody of his toddler self…


And now sits rocking, rocking

By the radiator,

Counting to ensure

The folds in its metallic warmth


Still number twelve;

Counting for his security,

Counting to cast out

The yawning crack


In the pavement

Made by someone’s careless smile.


© Lizzie Ballagher