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The Bright Side: Navigating a Fender Bender With A Teen With Autism

Crunch.

I am briefly slammed forward, my purse thrown to the floor of my car. I look quickly behind me but Justin is already leaning back against his seat, seemingly no worse for wear. I slowly drive far enough away from the merging traffic to the side of the road where I won’t get hit, then pull over. In my rear view mirror I see a woman in an SUV stop behind me. I tell Justin we’re okay, leave the motor running because it literally feels like 102 degrees outside, and walk back to her car after assessing the damage to mine.

She is visibly shaking, probably in her seventies, profusely apologetic. She sees Justin rocking back and forth in my car and shaking it, and asks if he’s okay. I tell her he’s fine and he’s autistic, that’s why he’s rocking, and her face crumbles and she says she’s sorry one more time. I tell her we’re all fine and that’s what matters, and to get back in the car and call the police while I call my husband.


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All I can think as I walk back to my damaged car is the line from Monty Python, “’tis but a scratch”.

I walk back to her car a few minutes later and find her too flustered to figure out how to call the police, so I dial 911 and we wait. Two lovely officers come within minutes, we write reports, they check my information (even got to trot out Justin’s non-driver license). I am asked to go to the woman’s car so she can apologize again, and after making sure the police will keep an eye on my son I do. Within twenty minutes everyone pulls away as I wait for my husband to come.

I put everything back in its place, call our Subaru dealer and tell them we’re coming in, and sink into my seat. When bad things happen in our family I try to find the bright side when I can, and here it’s fairly easy. Nobody was injured. I didn’t hit the car in front of me. It will be a big inconvenience but not cost us anything.

And with a huge sigh of relief, I acknowledge the most important part- Justin did not have a meltdown.

Even a few years ago I would have been terrified after that crunch, because like many autistic people Justin is not a big fan of a change in routine, and the aftermath of the crash could have been dicey. Instead, my severely autistic boy of nineteen years just sat back in his seat and chilled for about an hour from start to finish, shaking his head no when I asked him if he wanted juice, gently rocking out to classic vinyl on the radio. He was amazing at the dealer, not protesting when he had to change cars, seemingly unfazed that his trip to Seaside was dead in the water.

He was patient. He was chill. Not too long ago these things would have been completely out of his grasp.

My point is this. Those of you especially with young autistic kids, might think all the challenges you’re facing are permanent. I won’t lie to you- some of them might be.

But the truth is your son or daughter will probably conquer many of them over time, with patience and hard work. I could never have imagined five years ago I could be in a car accident with my son, and all would go smoothly. I would have scoffed at anyone who suggested it.

And I would have been wrong.

Ask for help with challenges when you need it, from your child’s Early Intervention therapists, from their school, from a BCBA through insurance if you can. Do the work. Be patient. Know it may take months or years to change whatever behavior you want to change.

Be gentle on yourself while you work.

And most importantly, don’t give up hope.

For more on my family visit my blog at autismmommytherapist.wordpress.com

Follow me on Facebook at Autism Mommy-Therapist


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