A little story that has stuck with me since Christmas.
On Christmas Eve GC, the Roc, and I traversed the neighborhood on foot to deliver Christmas cards to our friends and neighbors. Our last stop was right next door where my neighbor’s daughter was inside with her new boyfriend (I cannot remember his name, so he is Boyfriend in this memory) wrapping presents for her kids who were napping. Of course Heather invited us inside, we rarely see each other anymore, though I see her kids every weekend next door at their Grandma and Grandpa’s playing in the back yard. We started to catch up on the last few months and the Roc immediately started asking to leave. The more I talked the more he yanked on my arm, my coat, my leg, pounded on the door and whined to leave. I brought him back home and left him with GC, then I scooted next door and took Heather up on the offer of a stiff drink.
I apologized for the Roc’s behavior and answered the obligatory “How’s he doing?” question with my usual “Really good!” Then Heather told me that the new Boyfriend has been a special ed teacher for many years and he works with Autistic kids. Upon hearing of the Roc’s Autism diagnosis he asked the question I’ve been asked countless times before.
“So what is his special skill or interest? Does he have something he loves or excels at?”
I hate being asked that question. I never know how to answer it. The Roc is smart and special (and not because of his Autism) but he doesn’t have a splinter skill. Not all children with Autism do. He didn’t teach himself to read at an early age, he cannot do advanced math, and he doesn’t play an instrument by ear. So I answered with my standard answer. He is smart and funny, and he’s making progress everyday. We are very proud of how hard he works. As far as an intense interest goes, he is obsessed with water. Waterfalls, rivers, streams, fountains, any kind of moving water. He loves to play in the bath, he is taking swimming lessons, and he enjoys the beach, especially watching the waves.
Boyfriend went on to say that not all children with Autism show their special skills at an early age. The Roc may still be developing a skill. Or his interests will develop into a skill in the future. Then he told me that my description of the Roc reminded him of a boy with Autism he had in his class ten years ago, he too was completely water obsessed. He wanted to do something with this boy’s love of water, and so with the parents permission, he took the boy to his beach house and taught him to surf. Now, ten years later, this 19 year old kid is an amazingly good surfer, so good that Boyfriend thinks he has a shot at going pro. His love of water has also led him to develop an affinity for photography, specifically photographing waves. Whenever Boyfriend and friends travel south to surf this kid comes along and he pays him to photograph their surfing adventures. He ended by telling me that you just never know where things will lead, how these kids will develop their skills, and to keep an open mind about the future.
I relayed this story to GC when I got back home and I could see him turning it over in his mind.
After the Roc’s Autism diagnosis we found it hard to think about the future. I struggled with it terribly. I felt that his future was stolen, or at least my dreams for his future were ripped out from under me. Doom and gloom psychologists charting his supposed intelligence on a bell curve furthered my feelings that the future looked bleak. But time has a way of changing your perspective. The Roc is definitely on his own time table, but I see his potential is starting to bloom. Now we think a bit more about the future. We often say that the Roc will have some sort of job that allows him access to water. We’ve joked that he will become a landscape architect, specializing in water gardens, or that he will design his own line of fountains. But surfer/wave photographer has never crossed our minds.
I’ve added it to the list and now I smile inside imagining the Roc as a surfer dude, traveling the world with a camera slung around his neck.
I’ve carried that conversation with me since Christmas Eve. I felt like I had been given a little unexpected gift that afternoon. It was a wonderful conversation. A reminder to keep dreaming of the future for the Roc.
He will find his way.
We will help him get there.
We’ll even buy him a surf board if he requests one.