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  • Kirk

Holding on, but also letting go

Some of the memories from when Nolan was diagnosed with Autism in 2008 have gotten fuzzy over time. I attribute some of that forgetfulness to being overwhelmed by what was life-altering news for me and Cindy. Some of it is due to self-induced amnesia from what was a very dark time in my life.

One thing I do remember is facing the doctors and specialists sitting around the table in a conference room at a local medical facility the day Nolan’s diagnosis was official. I blurted out Cindy and I would do “whatever it takes” to help him. I don’t know why those were the first words out of my mouth. Maybe it was because I felt like I had to show some bravado at a moment when my confidence was next to nil. Whatever the case, I said it and I meant it, even though I had no idea what the hell it would entail.

Doing whatever it takes for Nolan has taken on many forms over the last 13 years. It’s meant welcoming college-aged therapists into our home to work with him when he was in grade school. It’s meant voicing my opinion when I’ve thought the people working with him at the elementary and middle school levels were underestimating him. It’s meant encouraging him to do something that he might not be crazy about because I fear it might end badly, which isn’t always the case.

And sometimes, it means letting him out of my sight for more than 30 seconds and sending him out into the world when my inner Charlton Heston is screaming, “You’ll have to pry my son from my cold, dead hands!”

I transcribe city government meetings part-time from home. It’s the perfect job nine, 10 months of the year while Nolan is in school. Trying to accomplish something during the day mid to late summer while Cindy is at work and it’s just me and Nolan at home doesn’t always go well. There are multiple snack and toilet breaks. There are 25 requests per hour for a car ride. There are 25 meltdowns per hour when I say no to yet another cruise in the Corolla because well, dad needs to accomplish a little more and, call him selfish, he doesn’t want to be up until 2 a.m.

Last week was one of those weeks that I’d known for some time would be busy with three meetings to transcribe. One of Nolan’s paraprofessionals from summer school had told me back in June she would be more than willing to do a few hours of respite work for me. She’s worked with other individuals who have special needs, but I was a bit hesitant. I had to fight the belief that no one whose last name isn’t Bey is capable of taking care of my son and realize that either I accept her help or feel the effects of sleep deprivation on a 50-year-old body that’s already worn down. Lady, you’re hired.

She arrived at our house last Tuesday morning and offered to take Nolan for a car ride. I settled in and began working when she pulled out of our driveway, but I did think about him being with someone he’d spent a grand total of three weeks with – the last time being nearly two months ago (“Where is she taking him? Is he behaving? Is he getting enough toilet breaks? What will she feed him? Why didn’t I set aside some money for a homing device I could have discreetly hidden in his pockets??!?!??”).

About noon, I received a text from the respite care worker. She and Nolan had been cruising around listening to music and they’d stopped at Starbucks, and now she had brought him to her house for lunch. She sent me a photo of Nolan sitting on her couch with pillows and a keyboard he seemed to be enjoying very much. He was happy, well-behaved, and content for her Tuesday, and that also was the case Wednesday when they went to a farmers market in a city 45 minutes away. They genuinely seemed to enjoy each other’s company, and I would have no qualms about asking this woman to help us again.

I was ecstatic that Nolan did very well for someone he barely knows. I want to believe he also will do well when the new school year begins Wednesday.

Unfortunately, the teacher who did the majority of work with Nolan in what was a sensational freshman year of high school for him will be working with a new group of students this year. I met the woman who was slated to be Nolan’s new teacher the first day of summer school, and I spent the summer preparing to work with her during the upcoming school year. I’d even started composing in my head a very rough draft of an email to her that would prepare her to work with Nolan, who she no doubt would fall in love by the end of the first week of school.

Then, two weekends ago I was perusing the agenda of the upcoming school board meeting. The teacher had opted to remain at the school she’d previously taught at in the district, and another teacher was being hired to work at the high school. A bit panicked – or maybe more like “these beads of sweat on my forehead aren’t because it’s hot in the house” panicked – I emailed Nolan’s teacher from last year asking for details – any details – about what was happening. I also asked her to share details – yes, the minutiae counts! – she could about Nolan with the new teacher. She responded by reminding me that the other special education teacher and the two paraprofessionals who’d worked extensively with Nolan last year were still around. She also assured me that the transition to the new teacher would go just fine.

I took Nolan to school last Wednesday afternoon to meet his new teacher, along with the new paraprofessionals who were hired over the summer. All of us only spent an hour together, but I can say I feel better about putting Nolan on the school bus every morning.

Nolan’s new teacher is laid back, which is the antithesis of dad! I’m sure Nolan will appreciate that.

He’s worked with nonverbal students in the past! (One of Nolan’s past teachers hadn’t. It showed).

He’s very familiar with Nolan’s communication program on his iPad!

He assured me that he’ll take the time to get to know Nolan and make sure that he’s successful, which will take time and patience. I know he has the latter, because I must have told him five, six, 30 times I live just a couple minutes away from school and would help him in any way possible.

Trust is a difficult thing to earn from me. No one knows Nolan better than Cindy and I do, and sometimes it’s difficult for me when he’s with someone who doesn’t know him like we do. I have to remind myself that there are, always have been, and always will be, people who care about his well-being. It’s very healthy, and necessary, for him to see what the world outside our neighborhood has to offer. It’s healthy for me to follow .38 Special’s advice about holding on loosely but not letting go. It’s difficult to do, especially as he ages, but I’m trying.

Yeah, I swore a long time ago that I would do “whatever it takes” to help Nolan’s growth and development, and to help him be the best he possibly can. Sometimes that means loosening my grip on him so he’s able to do just that.

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