Sunday, May 4, 2014

#161 - An Open Letter to My Son

On Tuesday, our son Christopher turns 18, that magical age at which all of us become adults. This past weekend, we marked the occasion with a party at the local bowling alley. It was a small affair; the neighbor brought her son and daughter, and two girls Christopher invited from school were also gracious enough to attend.

Christopher said he had a great time, for which I am thankful. It did, however, get me to thinking about what is next for him. I know what I hope for him, but I'm never quite sure what Christopher wants out of life or if he thinks about it much. It's always been a tough subject to discuss with him. Perhaps, like me, he expresses his thoughts better in writing. So, I thought I would try writing down what I hope for Christopher and ask him what he hopes for himself.

Dear Christopher,

In a couple of days, you will turn 18. It is a challenging time and also an exciting one. Most 18 year-olds are preparing to graduate from high school and head off to college or perhaps to working life. As you well know, though, your autism makes you unique in many ways from others your age.

And yet, observing you at your birthday party on Saturday, I see that you are in many ways much like other young men your age. You have a strong interest in girls, and you know a pretty girl when you see one, judging from the two you invited to your party. You also have an adult sense of humor, one that can even be a bit naughty at times. (Your mention of being in a "girl sandwich" did take me a bit by surprise, I have to admit.) So, in many ways you are a lot like your fellow classmates.

You do also have your challenges - sense of time and money, being able to process information and respond in a timely manner. The latter sometimes makes you seem deliberate and thoughtful. At other times, it can be maddening. I suspect that patience will always be a struggle for those you come into your life.

Speaking of your life, what does it hold in store? What do you want to do with your life? What will be possible? I think all of us (teachers, aides, even us parents) have sold you short a time or two in your first 18 years. We have all struggled to determine what you are capable of and what you might be capable of in time. At times, you seem very mature and capable of great things. At others, I struggle to  hold on to the idea of you being able to live a meaningful life. I used to tell people you were 17 going on six going on 30, such are the emotional and intellectual shifts I've seen you make.

You have expressed an interest in varying things, some of them right in line with what many other young adults are interested in - a wife, a family, a career. I don't know how many of these will be possible. I hope all of them. Regardless, I hope you will be better than I was at celebrating the successes and dealing with the disappointments you will likely encounter.

At 18, your whole life is ahead of you. I hope you are able to articulate your dreams and make them come true. Where you are concerned, I've always believed anything is possible. I've no doubt it will be harder for you to make your dreams come true. But I've also no doubt that you are capable of much, probably more so than any of us give you credit for.

Your autism will convince some, perhaps many, that the things you want in life are not practical or achievable for you. Do not listen to them unless you become convinced they are correct, but decide that for yourself. Do not let them convince you. Fight for your dreams but also recognize that you will likely have to work harder to make your dreams a reality.

I know I have been hard on you at times, but it is only because I can see the potential for your life. Deep down, I've no doubt you are capable of making your dreams, whatever they are, come true. If you are willing to work hard at it and not hold on to the frustrations will will most certainly encounter, all things are possible. Dream big! Work hard! Love fully! Live!

Love, Dad

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