What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

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.

It was funny today.  I asked him (while he was playing PacMan) what he wants to be when he grows up.  This was his response:

“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:

You are a very smart boy.  You can do anything you think you can do.  You can already read, write, and spell.  You can be anything you want to be.  I love you!

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.”


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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7 Responses to What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

  1. I repeatedly tell myself that Little Miss can do anything she sets her mind to (except be President of the U.S… darn “born a U.S. citizen” clause!) — and I hope that when she gets to a point where she can really process the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” — that I am able to convey that to her. I think I’m going to hold on to that quote from Deb Lipsky… that may just come in handy!

  2. blogginglily says:

    Just don’t encourage him to be a robot. Unless it’s a ninja robot.

    also. . . Emma (the older one) wants to own an ice cream store when she gets older. She constantly asks whether she has to go to college in order to own an ice cream store and I tell her yes, that she needs to study business and finance so that she can stay in business and manage her employees. She seems resigned to this fate.

  3. Melissa says:

    Loved the post, also really enjoyed the broadcast… watched a couple of days ago… and it’s message.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, especially the quote from Deb Lipsky.

  5. Ooooh, I *love* this post!! And being away on vacation means I’ve been missing a lot of what’s going on in the blogosphere, so I feel very lucky to have stumbled (pun intended 😉 ) upon this post!! Thank you for sharing, I will definitely check out the link when I get the chance. Also, thank you for mentioning those books, also something I really want to check out!!

  6. eof737 says:

    I agree with you completely. Positive reinforcement does pay off in the long run… He will be who he is meant to be… fully and successfully. 🙂

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