Can you tell me a little about the living arrangements?
Sure, Mrs. Cariello! We have an entire house for students like him.
Oh, okay. Does he have a meal plan?
No, we have a kitchen here. We do keep locks on the refrigerator and the cabinets.
Yes. They need to ask permission to eat.
My name is Carrie.
I am married to a man named Joe.
We have five kids, and our second son Jack is diagnosed with autism.
Jack is seventeen.
He will graduate from high school in the spring.
Just as the trees bud their greenest leaves and the daffodils begin to blossom, his services will end.
He’ll have nowhere to go, and nothing to do.
Our story is neither new, nor ordinary.
We have a complicated son and he’s a senior in high school and we’re trying to find a place for him to have somewhat of a college experience.
A little freedom in a safe environment, maybe audit some classes, continue working on those ever-growing life skills.
Goodness, I am starting to hate those two words—life skills.
Autism is messy. I get it. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to education, medication, or parenting. There is no perfect answer.
I expected this next season of his life to have some bumps.
I did not expect to hear about locks.
Listen, I know he has vulnerabilities.
He can cook eggs, yet if the smoke detector went off, he’d probably start screaming.
He loves his job, yet he worries to the point of distraction about being late.
He can hold a pretty good conversation, yet he’ll turn and walk away mid-sentence if the topic changes.
Autism is the yet tucked inside each sentence—the exception, the nevertheless, the however, the breath between words.
He has autism, yet he is still a human being.
When he was six he hated the color orange.
When he was eight he memorized every license plate he saw.
Now, at seventeen, he stands six feet, five inches tall. He wears glasses. He rides the Peloton.
Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of a boy his age, and a piece of my heart wilts.
Autism changes my son’s face. It alters his smile and controls his eyes.
Often, I wonder what he might look like if the spectrum could release its grasp.
He is never relaxed.
I don’t know how to teach him how to lower his shoulders and unclench his jaw and loosen the worry in his heart.
When my oldest son was looking at colleges, we considered things like campus size, business courses, and if he’ll get home by plane or train for Thanksgiving.
With Jack, we consider the social programming, support staff, and peer integrations.
When I think about his future, I have moments of pure despair.
I don’t know what I am trying to say here, other than I know he will need extra support and more supervision and all of that. I just didn’t expect to have a conversation about locks on the refrigerator.
Would he overeat, if given the chance? Of course. What college student doesn’t overdo pizza and ice cream?
At the same time, it takes so little to make him happy.
Popcorn at the movies, dinner around the table, planning the holiday menu.
He wants to make choices for himself. And I believe he’s earned this.
It’s easy to compile a list of all the things he’ll likely never do.
Run a company, drive a car, have a child, hold office, serve in the military.
But what about all the things he might do?
He might surprise us all.
Please, give him a chance.
Take the locks off the door, off your mind, off his diagnosis.
He is a human being.
He is a triumph wrapped in a boy.
And he deserves what is rightfully his.
Food when he’s hungry, connection with others, dignity, respect, a college experience.
He will live a different life than most, it’s true.
A life lived differently is not a life less lived.
There is no perfect answer.
For now, we’ll keep looking.
Cody Rigsby. That’s his favorite Peloton instructor.