The conversation swirls around me, the ebb and flow gifting me snapshots into families’ lives as I sip my frappacino. I’ve taken ten minutes to breathe at our neighborhood Starbucks, kept my phone in my purse, determined to take an unplugged time-out. The end-of-year fracas always seems to take me by surprise even after almost a decade of school-aged children, and I need to recharge.
Thank God for whipped cream and caffeine.
I’m seated next to two women, and their words wash over me as I unintentionally eavesdrop. There is discussion about their crazy baseball schedules, summer camps, moving on to middle school. As I listen it is apparent their children are typical kids for even “friend drama” is a topic, and I smile as I remember my experiences with my fifth grade students, the make-or-break friendships that so often caused elation or despair. Everything they speak of is “normal” for most tweens, a staple of a typical child’s life.
And none of it applies to my son Justin.
My twelve-year-old boy has severe autism. There are no organized sports for him, not because they don’t exist, but because he’s shown as much interest in sports as I do for spending a day at the DMV. Although there are local camps for him, this year they could not open due to low enrollment, so my boy will have his fun in summer school.
There isn’t any friend drama because he doesn’t have friends. Trust me, we’ve given playdates a try. They’re just not his thing.
Justin won’t have the “normal trappings” of an average tween. As he moves into adulthood he won’t drive a car, or go to a prom. College is not in the cards, nor a spouse or partner. He will always be dependent on others’ care, from birth until he draws his last breath. He will never have a typical life- if such a thing even exists.
But here is what Justin will have.
An incomparable education from dedicated professionals whose greatest delights are to see him meet his goals and smile.
Parents who champion him every step of the way, eager to attack each new challenge and watch him succeed.
A little brother who considers him his best friend.
An extended family who “gets” him.
A thirst for knowledge.
Irrepressible joy most days, from the moment he wakes until the moment he snuggles into my lap at night for his story.
And it’s that last thought that stays with me as I sip longingly at my rapidly disappearing beverage. After years of insomnia, meltdowns, sensory issues, feeding issues, and a general discontent with the world at large, we have come out from the darkness into the light. My son, my severely autistic, mostly non-verbal son, is happy. On most days he is genuinely, utterly, filled with joy. A joy of his making, devoid of my narrow parameters of what constitutes a good life.
My boy is happy. It’s not everything.
But God, it helps.
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