H is 13… in some ways he is still so young… but I see him changing and developing in many areas. I also see that adulthood is looming, and I understand that this next stage is, in some ways, much closer that I am ready to accept. Our energy and focus is needed to support his positive development and his acceptance of who he is as a person, and his understanding that autism is a part of that. This is the preparation for the transition into adulthood… it is time!
I sense there is much work that needs to be done to bolster the psyche of this young man to counteract the negative messages that he sometimes hears through the media: we are working to reframe the messages of autism and tragedy. I want him to have pride in himself – not shame. I want him to feel an ownership of his differences – so that he can fully understand these himself, explain to others, and also say what it is he needs.
Tonight we had a conversation about his attending the Arizona TASH conference as a self-advocate. I am presenting at this conference next month (Strategies for Inclusion in the Regular Education Classroom) and H has been invited to attend with me.
I told him, “Honey, you don’t have to go… I am not telling you ‘you have to go.’ This needs to be your choice and your decision. I will tell you that I think it is an amazing opportunity. You will get to meet other autistic people, some of whom are adults. There are people who know about you and they want you to come to the conference. They want to meet you and to talk with you. I know that you will like talking to people like Laura Nagle… and they will like talking with you.
I think you are a wonderful boy and I am so proud of you. I think others can learn from you, because you have words to share what some kids can’t. Learning more about being a self-advocate is important and your Dad and I think this conference may be a good thing. It is important to us that you grow into a man who is able to talk about what you need and explain your experiences to others. You will always be autistic – and I think the world has a lot to learn about that: teaching the world to be more understanding will make life better for lots of people.
But here is the really important part: it is your choice. I think you are wonderful and I am proud of you even if you don’t go… because this too is self-advocacy. This isn’t about what I want for you – it is about what you want for yourself, and about letting others know what you need.
Buddy – this one is yours to decide!”
H looked over at me and queried, “Mom why are you crying? Are you sad?”
I used my sleeve to dab my somewhat misty eyes, and smiled reassuringly, “No, I am just feeling moved, honey. I am so proud of you and I think you have so much to offer. You are a really awesome boy.”
“Mom – I want to go! I want to do this. I have something to say… and there might be kids with autism who don’t have my words… I can help!”
We’ll keep you posted as this next adventure unfolds… but in the meantime… I must reveal that my heart is almost bursting with pride for this child of mine.