Fear is the fuel in an autism family. Hope is the engine that keeps us running. But on many days, the fuel just consumes all hope.
These aren’t your average fears over our regular, everyday children. I laugh in the face of the ‘mean girl’ or the rude boy. No, these fears pulse so much deeper and feed my every hour.
I feel it deep in the depths of my heart. I fight so hard. I advocate so hard. I explain all day all in the hopes that my son will find a kind advocate in the form of friendship and support.
I can’t instruct him when he leaves the house. He is on his own to figure things out. The thing is, it just doesn’t work the same as with my neurotypical fellas. Basic instruction pales in comparison to the things a child on the autism spectrum must learn.
So, I instruct the obvious and push him hard. I fight the weight of anxiety that blankets his soul. I defend my parenting decisions. I research therapies and treatments constantly and have to trust that today we are on the right path.
But all my instructing and all my pushing only move us inches further, it seems. When will he grow leaps and bounds like other kids?
Will he joke around like other goofy teenagers? When will he get invited to hang with the boys? Can he say hello to the group of girls calling his name?
Or will he still shut down and refuse to talk when an adult addresses him? Will he respond with an “I don’t know” when his drum teacher asks him about his favorite band again? The very band he listens to every single day? The band that we saw in concert with 80,000 other fans?
Maybe today will be the day that he ‘gets it.” But I’m afraid he won’t.
Will he get better support in high school? Will the light switch if he is in a new environment? Will his current school grow tired of helping him and throw in the towel? Will he drown in the sea of high school academics? Will a teacher throw him a lifeline?
What if he struggles in high school and won’t get into college? How can he make National Honor Society if he shuts down on an essay? Will the college admissions folks even know how hard he has worked just to walk down the hallway? Just to make it through lunch alone again?
How will he even handle college? A job? Oh my goodness, how will he get a job if he won’t look someone in the eye during an interview? What if he responds with another “I don’t know” when asked an easy question?
Will he keep it together today? Will he hear anything the design teacher says or will he be too bothered by the kid sitting next to him smacking his gum? And when she asks him to contribute to the group, will he respond with a bland “I don’t know” or will he give the super creative, ingenious solution that is just sitting there in his head?
Maybe today is the day someone sees what I see: An incredible, sharp mind that comes alive when all the noises of the day have gone to bed. A voice that talks so eloquently, that I nudge my husband just to make sure he is hearing what I’m hearing.
A mind that has plans to write a novel and become a filmmaker. A loyal friend who would make a great one. An energetic young man who has a sense of purpose and conviction and carries a great sense of right and wrong. He is also witty and hilarious and annoying, just like a lot of teenagers I know.
Yet it’s the starting that’s so hard, and it’s the daylight that quiets his voice.
Today I watch him steel himself up. Take that deep breath. And walk out the door.
Fear remains. Today, it is mine.