In the 1990s, there wasn't alot known about austism or the autism spectrum. There were no advocacy groups for the parents of autistics; No guides for raising such a special child. So I had to try to be my son's best advocate. 

I understand the inclination of parents of an autistic or Asperger's child to coddle and shelter their offspring. It is far easier to let them withdraw and disengage than watch their angst manifest when confronted with uncomfortable situations.  It was hard for me to watch but I pushed my son anyway. Sometimes I had to nudge those around him, too.

I found as he got to school age that he was often marginalized or underestimated by some of the adults around him. During one of the myriad of individual education plan meeting between me and his teachers, I mentioned that he may appear oblivious when he manifested self stimulating behaviors such as hand flapping or rocking. I assured them he was soaking up more than he appeared. I don't think most of them believed me until my son proved me right. 

At a later parent teacher meeting a teacher told me he appeared to be oblivious during her class so she called on him tand instructed him to repeat what she had just been discussing. He repeated verbatim what she had just said. The teacher said she'd never make that mistake again. 

He had decent teachers but the school system would have kept him in "special" classes if I had not advocated for him to be mainstreamed. I wanted him to be challenged educationally and socially. In middle school he was included in a typical math class and music class and did fine albeit with a teacher's aide in the room for him. Later in high school, he was in mainstream accounting classes and earned Bs. 

Strangers would often be "concerned" for his welfare. While he was a middle schooler,  several well-meaning strangers called the middle school principal regarding a boy whom they feared would get hit by a car while walking to school. That boy was my son. 

 We lived less than two blocks from his school. The first few months of school, I dropped him off and picked him up from school. However, when he asked if he could walk to and from school, my gut twisted in fear at first. But then my heart swelled with pride. My son wanted to be more independent. Just what I had always pushed for.  So, of course, I let him. 

At the time my son walked looking down at the ground, and would often talk to himself during the short trip with his hands flapping unabatedly. I'm sure to a stranger's eye, he appeared utterly, and possibly dangerously, oblivious to his surroundings. 

At the end of one of our parent/teacher meetings, the principal, brought to my attention the concerns of the motoring public and she gently suggested my son not be allowed to walk to and from school. 

My response? I smiled and just as gently refused to halt his pedestrian activities before and after school.  I told the principal, while I understood her concern and the concern of the vocal motorists, my son was just fine. I think because he appeared different than the other children walking to school, they assumed he was less capable of doing the activity. Well-meaning, I like to thinks so. Misguided? Yep, absolutely!

I walked with him to school and watched as he crossed the street before letting him fly solo. He was extremely careful and hurried across the roadway when he had enough time to just walk across to the school. And he only crossed when it was safe to do so. My heart was in my throat the first day I let him do it by himself but I believe that was just me being a mom. I was equally relieved and proud when he walked into the house in one piece that first day. After that, I was confident in his ability to look out for himself while walking to school. I wanted the principal to see this for herself. 

 I challenged the principal to watch him as he came to school and judge for herself if he safely crossed the street onto school property. After witnessing him in action for herself, if she truly thought he was at any more risk than the other children, I told her to contact me and we could discuss it further. Never heard another whisper about the matter after throwing down that gauntlet.

My son was certified to SCUBA dive at age 11. However, the dive master running the class wanted a note from a doctor that said my son was "fit" enough for the activity. Annoyed? You bet I was. BUT it was something my son wanted to do so I bit my tongue and held my Irish temper.

I knew my son was more than capable of learning SCUBA diving. I was disappointed in having to prove he was, but it really came as no surprise.  I made an appointment with his pediatrician who gladly signed the necessary paperwork.  Between age 11 and 25, my son dove at least once a year and even did some deep-water diving dipping to 85 feet to explore a shipwreck in the Florida Keys. He became an accomplished diver. Something that would not have happened if left to the "kindness" of strangers.

Strangers and acquaintances were not the only ones to underestimate my son. Family members fell prey to it, too. My son's paternal grandparents live in Florida and have since he was young. My son and his father would fly down to Florida most years to visit for a week's vacation. So my son has had quite a bit of experience with air travel. 

One recent summer, my son was traveling alone to Florida to see his grandparents and I booked the flights to and from Florida on his behalf. The itinerary included a layover at the Dallas, TX., airport where he would have to use a shuttle between terminals to get to his connecting flight. 

His grandmother called all upset and wanted the flight cancelled. She feared he could be stranded in a strange city if he missed his connecting flight. (His layover was damn near two hours, so I didn't quite get her point.) She countered with, "I just worry about my grandson."

My response to her was simple. "He's a capable, young man. I am confident he will have no problems. You should have more faith in him."  

Needless to say, he did just fine. He was a grown man. Personally, I believe her concern was borne out of her underestimating his abilities more than anything else. Would she have had the same concern regarding any of her other grandchildren in the same circumstances? Probably not. 

My own mother underestimated him too on occasion. He was usually punctual about arriving home from work at the same time every evening. This was when he worked at an nearby 24-hour Walmart as a stocker and left work at 11 p.m. If he wasn't home by 11:30 p.m., my mother would start in on me. "Where's he at?. Why isn't he home? You need to call his cell phone."

"I'm not calling his cell phone. He's not that late," I'd say. "Aren't you worried about him?", she quipped. "I don't have to be since you're worried enough for the both of us." She's go to her room in a huff. 

Again, I think her over-concern was due to his being wired differently. At the time he was a young adult. He didn't drink alcohol, smoke dope, use illegal drugs, gamble or chase women. My thought was what kind of trouble could he get into in 30 minutes. Now after 90 minutes, I might be calling his cell phone out of curiosity but I thought it important to give him autonomy. He'd eventually come home and when asked why he was later than usual it was because he did some shopping or stopped to get something to eat. No big deal, right? Right.

I never bubble wrapped my son. I wanted him to experience as much as he could. I exposed him to as many activities and experiences as I could while he was growing up. More often than not, he rose to the occasion. I knew the world wouldn't cater to him, so I tried to equip him with the skills he would need to cope with this noisy, chaotic existence we call life. I wanted him to be able to stand on his own two feet. 

I encouraged him to try as many things as he could. It was okay not to be good at everything he attempted. As long as he did his best, that's what counted. Not trying was a bigger failure. I pushed him to be as self-sufficient as possible. I believe this philosophy has helped my high-functioning, autistic son live in our world his way. 

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