Happy Independence Day

Independence. I, like the rest of the country, have got the day off Wednesday to celebrate it. I know what it means to me: Self-reliance, taking control of one’s own destiny, resolving to sink or swim on one’s own. I hate asking for help, even when it’s just a small favor from someone who loves me and doesn’t mind in the least. I don’t like relying on others to get things done, and being in someone’s debt gives me ulcers.

I find myself wondering, though, on this July 4th, what will independence mean for my son? Not today or tomorrow, but 20 years from now, when he’s an adult. The short answer is, I simply don’t know. But I hope. I hope he’ll be passionately pursuing something he cares about deeply. I hope he’ll be starting a rewarding career that stimulates his imagination and makes him excited to come to work in the morning. I hope he’ll have loving and supportive friends with whom he can share himself and that they, in turn, will be able to really see who he truly is and love him for it. I hope all these things for my son, and I hope he’ll be able to go out on his own and experience them for himself … then drop in for a visit and tell me all about them.

But I don’t know. It’s tough to even visualize this kind of future when, in the present, he’s unable to simply sit down and have a conversation about what happened at school today. The future is a gigantic, jagged question mark with sharp edges where there should be gentle curves. I have recently taken up a book that is smoothing out some of those edges, though.

Thinking In Pictures, by Temple Grandin, is the best text I’ve seen on the topic of growing up/living on the autism spectrum. It’s written from the perspective of an extremely high-functioning autistic who spent most of her formative years in a world that didn’t have a name or diagnosis for her disorder. When she began grade school she was classified as “brain damaged.” It was later determined that she had an IQ higher than 130, even though she found school work boring and had poor grades. She would go on to graduate college, obtain post-graduate degrees, and make a name for herself as an independent contractor who designed more efficient and humane systems for managing livestock. Temple Grandin is a woman with autism living independently and thriving.

The most valuable part of the book, to me, is how she describes what it’s like to see the world through autistic eyes. As a visual thinker, she claims to have picture-perfect memory reaching way back into her early years, far beyond the recall of most average people. Her descriptions of her own tantrums and panic episodes and her explanations of what caused them have done more for me than any other text, when it comes to really grasping what Alex is going through.

I feel like I have a secret weapon now. I may not be able to understand what he’s feeling, but I can come much closer to imagining it than I ever could before. With this knowledge, I can help him. And if he gets enough help now, he won’t need it in the future. I look forward to the day when we can celebrate Alex’s independence. It’s going to be one hell of a party.

1 comment
  1. Thanks for adding another book to my list. I am looking forward to reading it. I’m not one to ask for help either, but the one thing I am learning most from this journey is that I can’t do it alone. Your hopes for Alex reflect my own for Henry as I imagine for all parents out there. In time, their independence day will come. Until then, we’ll keep on keeping on. 🙂

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