Blog 

(A better title might be “An Occasional Blog”. . .  I’m not too disciplined!)

Finals Week

For my son, English is a second language.  His primary language is pictures.  He thinks completely in pictures, watching his thoughts go by in his head.  I remember when I first realized this.  We were driving to town and I heard him giggling in the backseat.  I asked him what he was laughing at, and he said, “I’m watching Foxound.”  ‘The Fox and the Hound’ was one of his favorite movies at the time, and he was literally watching it in his head.

Due to his autism, Ian has spent the past 24 years of his life trying to learn our language.  His language by it’s very definition is impossible for him to communicate in, and it is extremely difficult for other people to communicate with him using it.  His expressive and receptive language issues have made school a huge challenge.  In many classes he has had to work twice as hard as the ‘normal’ students just to keep up.  

Last month, Ian completed finals week at his junior college.  Courageous person that he is, he took a speech class.  Taking speech is terrifying for many people, but just imagine taking a speech class in a second language.  Ian called me a couple of weeks before the final saying that he was really scared and nervous.  They were to draw a random topic out of a hat, and in two minutes, prepare a five minute speech on that topic.

I had him make an appointment with his teacher to explain to her about his autism, even though he’d already told her about it. We worked out everything he was going to say, and he wrote it all down in case he got flustered.  He explained to her that finding the right words was hard for him, even when he knew what he was talking about.  He explained that the reason he was taking speech was to help him get better at communicating.  He told her he was scared not knowing what his topic would be. 

I saw a poster once.  In it there are two pictures, side by side.  In the first, three people of different heights are standing on boxes that are the same size, reaching for apples.  Next to that is another picture with the same three people, but this time the boxes are different sizes, the largest box for the shortest person.  Under the pictures it says, ‘Equality doesn’t mean equity’.

Equality versus equity.  Equality only works if we all start at the same point, if we need the same help.  Equity means giving each individual the right kind of help. Equality is fairly easy to obtain.  Equity, however, is far more challenging, especially in an educational setting. 

My son faces this dilemma nearly every day as he struggles to find his place in a world that often isn’t willing to work with his challenges.  How hard would it have been to give Ian an extra couple of minutes to prepare his speech, or perhaps some idea of what his topic might be?  Given the right sized ‘box’, Ian is capable of truly amazing things.  


By the way, he got a ‘B’ in his speech class.

Graduation

I wrote this last summer, before I had a blog!


As I sit here in the bleachers watching my daughter graduate from college, my mind drifts back four years ago to the day I dropped her off. We sat there in my truck, both of us crying.

"Daddy, I don't think I can do this," she said, and my heart broke because I knew she had to try. I remember her walking away from me, arms wrapped around her chest as though she was holding herself in.

But try she did; four years that ended up as some of the happiest of her life. Today her smile lights the entire stadium as she walks off that stage, diploma in hand . . . her future in hand, as the doors to that future open before her.

I turn to my son. He is crying. He is crying because the doors to his future are closed, and many of them are locked.

"I wish I didn't have this stupid autism," he says, and my heart breaks yet again.

My son dreams of teaching math. He would be an amazing math teacher, but universities aren't ready for someone like him. In many ways, a university is a world of hoops, and everyone must jump through those hoops in the same way. People like my son walk a different path, and find different ways to jump through those hoops, or better yet, they find their own way around them. Sadly, the very thing that makes them unique and wonderful is the thing that sometimes holds them back.

We as a society need to be talking about this. One out of every forth-five children will be diagnosed with autism. These kids have a unique way of being in this world. My son is the most open, caring, non-judgmental person I know. Think of all the wars, the hatred, caused by people judging one another. We need people like my son in this world, and we need them in positions where they can make a contribution to society.

And so here I sit, watching my beautiful daughter step through her door and into her future, while my son searches desperately for the key to his.


The Apartment

Ian was home for the weekend. Even though he's been living in his apartment for a year now, and is doing well, saying goodbye is still kind of hard. But it's nothing like that first night . . .



Dropping my daughter off at college was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The day was meant to be a joyful transition - campus tours, entertainment, a barbecue dinner for the families. Everyone seemed happy and excited.  Kaylee and I were alone together for dinner.  My wife, Michelle, had left earlier in the day.  She was teaching a new beginners dance class, and that evening was the first session.  Unable to eat, Kaylee walked me to my truck to delay the inevitable goodbye.  I will never forget watching her walk away, arms folded across her chest as though holding herself in, vulnerable, and so very alone.


***


It was a room of impermanence.  Collapsible camping chairs stood haphazardly around the living room, starkly blue against the practical beige of the carpet.  An airbed lay on the bedroom floor, the smell of new paint was in the air.  My son stood in the midst of it all – my son, and his autism.  

It had been a long time since I’d seen Ian’s autism like that, separate and looming.  Over the years it had gone from a feared ‘other’ to simply a part of him, a beautiful part, as much a part of him as his fingers or his toes.  But suddenly here it was again, separate, staring me in the face, confronting me.  

“You’ll be gone, but I’ll remain,” It said.  “I will be there when he shops for his food, when he pays his rent, when he meets a stranger in the street.  I will tangle his words, and trouble his thoughts.  I will touch everything.  You have accepted the gifts that I bring him, but you have forgotten the challenges I bring as well.”

They stood there, my son and his autism –side by side as Michelle and I said goodbye.  Then the door thumped closed behind us, and the deadbolt clicked.


***


Dropping my daughter at college was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  With my son, there is a whole other world to it.