Martin was the star. As we entered the various White House rooms, Martin called out the names of presidential portraits. Benjamin Harrison. John Tyler. We started to get looks of bemusement from adults and slack-jawed confusion from youngsters. People began to edge closer to Martin as he moved from one room to the next, pointing out obscure nineteenth-century leaders. At the end of the tour, one fellow tourist asked Martin for a high five and declared, “I’m so glad I visited the White House with you.” Martin said “OK,” but his excited smile made it clear that he was very happy.
Our day in downtown Washington DC began and ended on high notes. Our White House tour was scheduled for 7:30am. After finishing and finding some breakfast, we had time to kill before our next museum of choice opened. We headed for the air and space museum, which we thought would have exhibits on planets that Martin might enjoy. Unfortunately, it was busy, both with visitors and visually. It was a little too much for Martin. He got very overstimulated trying to find airplane models he could crawl inside. We left in a hurry, trying to pull him together on the sweltering city sidewalks.
After more cool drinks and some time to calm down, we entered the National Portrait Gallery. Martin marched up to the desk staff and asked for the president pictures. With their direction, he made a bee-line to the second floor. Turning a corner, he spied a huge painting of George Washington. He began to sprint and started to sing. He made his way through the entire gallery 13 times. As far as we could tell, he made each trip with a slight variation. He visited each portrait while singing various president songs and raps. He said only their last names and then their first and last names together. He insisted on going through in the stroller. Sometimes he jumped up and down with excitement. He has asked to go back to the portrait gallery more than a dozen times since we left yesterday morning.
It was a great day. We were so glad because we knew there was potential for sadness. It was unclear whether Martin really understood that a White House tour did not involve a personal interview with President Obama or a chance to stand on the Truman Balcony. But Martin was OK. In fact, he loved it. We bought him a new pack of president cards – with pictures featured in the portrait gallery – and Martin has had them in his hands ever since. And some of the people we met on the tour will go home with a nice story about cute little boy and his presidential knowledge. On our trip, autism helped Martin make new friends.