When I was a kid, people asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would answer, “Ice cream girl” (riding around on a bicycle cart with a frozen treats container); a “movie star”; a singer (yeah – the kid will tell you that wouldn’t work out); a psychologist; a poet; novelist; and then a journalist. No. Lawyer never came up…
Now, it’s my son’s turn. I have no idea what obstacles he will face in any career he might choose, assuming he chooses one. He is considered to have high functioning autism. Regardless of where he is on paper, I know my son. In the end, I do not believe there are any obstacles that will stop him from achieving whatever path he takes. I will make sure of it.
“A monster…a bad guy… a robot.”
Okay. Time to re-examine my parenting skills. Hmmm. This whole idea of my son’s career, work, and/or life after school is always tucked away, nagging at times, at the back of my mind. And nothing scares me like the unknown. Especially because my son, at 5, seems so far away from the eventuality of life after school ends.
Will my child be socially able to get or hold a job? Will he perform job duties or be too distracted to focus? How will he get to the job? Drive? Public transportation? Will he understand why he works, what benefits it provides? Will his lack of communicative skills subject him to numerous dead end, widget-counting jobs where he will not be able to sustain an income or live alone? Will my child be able to care for himself and, if not, who will care for my child when I die?
In some cases, maybe our children will remain with us at home in adulthood. Is that really so terrible? There are parts of that that seem wonderful to me. And I know I will always care for and help my child to the end of my time, and beyond, to the extent I can. We cannot change what comes after that, no matter how much we worry. Planning for my son’s future is no different than the responsibility that every parent shares. Beyond that, I chose not to consume myself with worry over what may happen that I cannot control.
Yesterday, I heard an adult with high functioning autism by the name of Deb Lipsky speak in a video link to Making Our Way: Autism posted by Heather at The A Word. (Heather and her son make a brief appearance in the special toward the end! Yay Heather and Brian!) Deb Lipsky is a national speaker and has written two books, “Managing Meltdowns” and “From Anxiety to Meltdown.”
She spoke in this program, of using her own intense interests in tractors and military paraphernalia as a foundation from which she could socialize with others. It was the combination of her speaking these words:
“Take the individual and find their special interest and make their special skills around that special interest…”
and the words I tell my son every morning, as I brush his hair, before we leave for school:
that led me to think about what he will be when he grows up. My mom used to tell me something similar to what I now tell my son, when I was a little girl. I believed her. And I believe my son can do the same. If I limit my son, he will limit himself. And there is no reason to limit him.
Often, I see stories about how our children would do well with tasks that required detailed focus and social isolation. Why? Why should I limit my five year old son?! Ridiculous. My son can do or be anything in the world right now.
Maybe when he grows up, he will want or need social isolation, or a part time job with detailed focus. He may be unable to hold down a job at all. And if that happens, I will love him just as much and support him until I die anyway. So right now, I choose to give him the world. The world is his oyster. And who knows? He may invent his own profession and become a billionaire.
So, if you get to worrying, and we all do, remember these beautiful words from Ms. Lipsky, someone who lives with autism:
“Everyone who’s known me or seen me or been to my seminar or presentations knows that I do not see autism as a burden. Autism is a gift. And I tell people all the time, ‘God doesn’t make mistakes. There is a reason for everyone, including us.’ And the gifts that come with autism are so numerous. . .”
“I’m autistic and proud of it. I am different and I embrace it now, and I’d ask all autistic individuals to embrace who you are and feel good about yourself. Who cares what other people think? We know how we feel ,and we’re always taught when you’re in public, you gotta be this way. Just be who you are and be comfortable with who you are and screw the world. They’re either gonna like ya or hate ya and you can’t change anyway. If they like you, they’ll be with you and if they don’t, they weren’t meant to be. Go play with your special interests. That’s what I do.” Deb Lipsky
You can find those words here. Deb’s portion starts at about 46 minutes.
So about 20 years from now, when you hear that my son has become the online holographic top story of the day for Forbes – formerly the “Magazine”, just remember that “I told you so.”