One of the best things that has come out of Nolan’s Autism diagnosis 13 years ago is the relationships Cindy and I have built over the years with other parents who also have special needs kids, and also the people we’ve come in contact with via social media. We might not live on the same block, in the same zip code, or even on the same continent. But I really do believe we understand each other.
The circumstances differ from household to household, but we all are very aware of the day-to-day challenges our families face. We lament the rough days and weeks because we’ve all dealt with them more times than we care to admit. Former President Clinton can say he feels your pain. There are times I’ve really felt like someone belted me in the gut when I’ve read about a child who’s had a difficult time.
But the triumphs I’ve seen these kids and their families experience? Hey, you don’t have to be my own flesh and blood for me to get that all-over warm feeling and break into a big smile when something special happens.
Take, for example, the case of a young man we know who’s a couple of years older than Nolan and also has Autism. Cindy and I don’t have a “let’s get together for a backyard barbeque this weekend” relationship with his family, but we’ve gotten to know his mother somewhat well over the past few years. A few weeks ago, she posted a picture of a portable DVD player sitting on a couch next to their dog. Her son had been watching a movie before the bus arrived to take him to summer school. He placed the DVD player, with the screen facing the dog, on the couch next to her when the bus pulled up in front of their house. His mom noted it was as though he wanted to share the movie with the dog, and also that it was the first time he’d ever done that.
Damn. If that doesn’t hit you right square in the feels, I’d wager my last nickel that you’re covered in green fur and steal Christmas trees in the dead of night every December 24th.
I feel genuine joy whenever I see a child with a disability, no matter whose child it is, succeed at something – anything. In the case of one of Nolan’s former paraprofessionals who adopted a special needs child, it’s reading that her daughter had overcome her trepidation of their new pool. In the case of a gentleman who also is a member of a Facebook Autism support group for dads to which I belong, it’s finding out his son had just made it through his first Major League Baseball game – all three-plus hours and a 20-minute postgame fireworks show – and received a baseball. In the case of a man who belongs to another Autism dads Facebook group, it’s seeing a picture of his son thoroughly enjoying a ride in a convertible.
Their elation is my elation too. Something as big as sitting through a professional sporting event or making through a very tough day at school, or as simple as a meltdown-free trip to the grocery store or going 24 consecutive hours without a toileting mishap, is our “my kid is an honor student” moment.
Those of you who have been following this blog for nearly two years know that Nolan has had his share of challenging moments, but he’s also progressed so much. He’s coming off a very successful freshman year of high school. He earned a varsity letter for competing in adaptive sports, including a full season of indoor baseball. He went into a strange environment when we took our first family trip in almost two years earlier this month and did really well.
But I’m going to take a moment and brag about the way Nolan uses his socks to communicate with us.
Now, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but Nolan has become a very effective communicator over the last few years, especially with his iPad. He can easily let us know via his communication program when he’s hungry, which is about two-thirds of any given day. He can let us know when he has to use the restroom. He can navigate his music therapy folder and tell his therapist which instrument he wants to play during one of his sessions.
He also is very capable of letting us know via his iPad when he wants a car ride. There are many instances when he just chooses to bring us a sock, a pair of socks – I think all the socks in his dresser drawer once or twice – to let either Cindy or I know, “Mother or father, I don’t care who, it’s time to leave our abode and board one of your vehicles – it doesn’t matter which one. I expect that we will be traveling at a speed in excess of 65 miles per hour for at least part of the journey. I also expect that light refreshments will be served.”
We started telling Nolan years ago that it was time to put on his socks and shoes when it was time to leave the house, but I don’t know when Nolan started bringing either one or both of us his socks when he wanted a car ride. Cindy and I very easily could make Nolan tell us on his iPad that he wants to ride in the car. But we also welcome any attempt he makes to communicate with us. If he equates a pair of cotton sweat socks with a car ride, we’ll make sure either the Corolla or the Prius has a full tank of gas and hit the road. And if the light refreshments mean we get a caffeinated beverage out of the trip, even better.
The little triumphs mean a lot to our family. I know they also mean a lot to several of you who are reading this post. We always believe deep down that the little successes will lead to bigger ones. But even the little ones are special.
I’m extremely proud of Nolan and happy every time that he succeeds at something, be it big or small. Please know that I’m just as proud of your kids and happy for you when you enjoy those successes, be they big or small.