There are so many challenges in raising an autistic child that I hardly know where to begin. From the first moment that you become aware of your child’s condition, it is immediately apparent that your life will never be the same again. As the years progress, parents are constantly looking for any signs of progress that their child may exhibit. For many, there is a common goal that their children may one day live meaningful and independent lives. My son Shane was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of five and he has made tremendous progress in the years following his diagnosis. That being said, my wife and I understand that he has a long way to go on his road to independence. Shane is currently finishing up his junior year of high school and learning to drive so that he can obtain his permit at some point in the near future. Personally, I have found this particular chapter of Shane’s life to be the most challenging and frustrating. To use a football metaphor, I feel like the clock is running down in the 4th quarter of the game. We are standing at our own one yard line and have to move the ball the entire length of the field if we are going to win the game. While Shane was growing up, it felt like we had all the time in the world and there wasn’t the amount of pressure that it feels like as he races toward his 17th birthday in July. My son is fast becoming a man but I am painfully aware of his limitations. As such, I am concerned that certain concepts and behaviors will prove more difficult than many of the obstacles he has already overcome. It is only natural for me to worry as he enters what may be the most pivotal phase of his development into adulthood.
With God as my witness, I have been guilty of insulating Shane from some of the day to day challenges of life. This ranges from knowing when it is time to perform a chore or come to the table for a family meal to doing some of his chores for him. I am not the only one guilty of insulating him as there have been times when other adults such as teachers, coaches and mentors have taken up some slack on his behalf to make things easier on him. It has become increasingly clear to me over the past year that Shane has grown to accept and in some cases expect this type of assistance from others and has grown passive in his behavior in many respects. Upon accepting this reality, my wife and I have begun to take steps to reverse the course of this passive behavior and force Shane to be more cognizant of his individual responsibilities. Following a lengthy discussion one recent evening, Shane was surprisingly upbeat and enthusiastic about tackling this new challenge and appears to be resolved to make progress in his development. We realize that this will be a time consuming process but that is typical with any autistic child. It is my responsibility to help him see those things that are not instinctual and to teach him how to be more self-aware.
While I continue to work to finish up my most recent book “Hello, I am Jim: A Family Story of Asperger Syndrome”, Shane has been tasked with an assignment to read at least one chapter a day. One of the most important reasons for writing this book was to help others but no one more than my son Shane. While my aspie handbook has many, many extensive chapters, Shane’s handbook is still very much a work in progress. He has already created his own internal aspie handbook and he adds to it each and every day. I very much hope that I can pass along to my son the extensive knowledge that I have as someone who has lived and eventually thrived with AS. Time may be running out in the 4th quarter but we will drive that football the length of the field and score the winning touchdown.