Lately, when it comes to our son and his autism, we are not, as they say, on the same page.
I mean, it’s not like we haven’t been here before.
Typically I latch onto an idea—integrated preschool, music therapy—and you don’t say much. You nod your head and I take that as agreement.
Except we aren’t talking about preschool or learning to play the recorder.
We’re talking about college.
Or in our son Jack’s case, a college experience.
As usual, you kept your grief and worry to yourself. As a father to this boy, this is what you do. You nod, you think, you stress.
My worry is explosive, and loud, and colorful.
Yours is private, and internal.
We’ve talked about it for hours, and yet I never understood your raw, tender heart.
You and I have what’s called an Autism Marriage.
An Autism Marriage is amplified.
It’s like someone held up a magnifying glass, and blew up all our faults, our weaknesses, our problems. It made us impossibly human.
You taught him how to grill burgers, hang Christmas lights, shovel the driveway, pray in church.
I did homework. I helped him answer the phone and watch a boiling pot on the stove.
These were our roles. We did what came naturally to us.
And now, this next step is upon us.
I thought we were on the same page.
But I watched your face and your wide eyes and for the first time, I realized just how terrified you are to let him go.
I am too. I think we’re just terrified of different things.
I’m afraid he won’t meet people.
You’re afraid he’ll meet the wrong people.
You think about him crossing the street, walking to campus alone, being out at night.
Lately it seems you and I are unwilling to stretch our hands to the fire, and feel the heat of our imminent future.
It will never be behind us.
Still, we root for him.
We root for the underdog.
We root for the boy who doesn’t always have a voice of his own.
There is a specific worry that accompanies launching a vulnerable child into the world.
For seventeen years, we have interpreted this boy to the world, and this world to the boy, yet the question lingers in the air like smoke from a campfire.
Have we done enough?
Have we explained and advocated and hoped and hurt and tried enough?
All day long, we push uphill. We work to speak autism’s language. And once we master a few sentences, we turn and offer the words.
No one believes in him the way we do. That’s the thing.
They see autism and the idea of a college experience seems ridiculous.
It’s not ridiculous.
Together, we will get him there.
Wherever that is.
It will be a long road.
The truth is, it has already been a long road.
We’ve done everything we could think of to prepare for this next season.
We practiced crosswalks and talked about stranger danger. You showed him where to keep his wallet and how to run for the door in case of a fire.
When it comes to autism, you were always the rule-breaker.
You never asked why.
Instead, you asked why not.
My husband, you are my witness.
And I yours.
We are witness to all the ways we help him claim the piece of earth that is rightfully his.
Side by side we stand, firmly rooted to the ground. We stretch our gaze toward the sky.
And on the days when it was all too much for me, when I couldn’t see the sun for the clouds and or take another step in the name of spectrum progress, you took my hand in yours, and helped me reach beyond the storm.
You held up half my sky.
Now, let me do the same for you.
He is ready. In my heart, I believe this.
I know we are not on the same page right now.
Still, I choose you.
I choose you when it’s hard—when we stand on opposite sides of spectrum’s wide divide.
We will move mountains for him.
It might simply be different mountains.
Maybe there is no perfect answer. There is just me, and you, and this boy, and autism.
Rooting for the underdog is equal parts thrilling/scary/ordinary/new.
I guess, at the end of the day, all we can do is hope the world is gentle.
All we can do is hope we’ve done enough.
We are two pages in the same story.
The story of a boy, his autism, and discovering what’s possible.
He could change the game.