Nothing out of the ordinary to most families, but we aren’t most families. We are a family whose lives were changed by an autism diagnosis over 20 years ago.
Now, it’s 4 am and I sit with tears flooding down my face, reflecting on the awesomeness of it all.
This is autism in our family. We are 26 years into this journey and what I can tell you is that nothing stays the same and everything changes. The things that you are convinced will never happen, just might one day, so whatever you do, don’t ever give up. Stay the course and BELIEVE and always have HOPE. Hope for what just might be possible even when in this season, where you are, it seems a million miles away.
Restaurants haven’t always been easy for us. When he was little, he would nestle up under the table, and as he got bigger, he wore headphones to avoid being overstimulated. He is loud. He walks awkwardly with his hands held together behind his back. People notice he is different. I see people look at Dave and me with sadness and I know that is simply because they recognize that we don’t have a “typical” life. I get it and I would probably do the same if the script were flipped. They have compassion laced with a tinge of sadness as they watch us navigate him through a crowded restaurant. Tonight was much of the same, yet different.
So many times, I prayed for this.
We work on independence a lot. Over and over and over again and have for years. Tonight he ordered a Sprite and the waitress understood him. When she brought it, he told me he forgot to order lemon. He was asking me to get him a lemon. I didn’t. I reminded him that he could ask her when she came back and he did. He ordered red rock shrimp and macaroni and cheese. The waitress asked if he wanted 8 or 12 shrimp and at that moment, time seemed to stand still as he looked at me then at Dave, and then back at me again. We didn’t answer for him. With hesitation and also I think a bit of conviction he said 12 and again, she understood him. I think at that moment he felt proud.
He decided. No one decided for him. Isn’t that what adults do, we make decisions. Jordan is 26, and he isn’t able to make many decisions of his own, tonight he did.
I watched in awe of who he is becoming and while this is a BIG deal it is not what my tears are about this morning.
But first, in case you’re wondering why the server understanding him was part of my story; Jordan stutters, and his speech isn't fluent. It is worse when he is excited or feels rushed. His language is very difficult to understand, especially for people who are not around him often.
His sister, Maddie, she understands him. She is 24 now and as I sit here with tears streaming down my face, this is about her. This is about a little sister with a big brother with autism.
“We’ll take you to Six Flags for your birthday,” she said to him, meaning she and Dahlton would take him. Again, not a big deal in most families, but you already know we aren’t like most families, and if you are here with us, most likely you aren’t like most families either.
Jordan will be 27 in June and he loves roller coasters and always has. I watched them sit next to each other in the restaurant tonight, him and his sister, talking about all things roller coasters. He was telling her about them and she was finding them for him on her phone. He had pictures of them in his head because you see, he is a visual thinker, he thinks in pictures and he sees past and future things that he has experienced in pictures, vividly. I am in awe of the things he remembers, his memory is impeccable. They talked about all the rides at Six Flags. She listened.
He is so excited and while his birthday is still two months away, I promise you, if I hear about Six Flags once, I will hear about it 150 times before then and that is ok. I’ll listen, and I’ll let him tell me all about it, over and over and over again.
Tonight wasn’t just about him, tonight was about her. Tonight was about them. Siblings, yes, but different.
I am so proud of the woman she has become. I am so proud of the sister she has become and I know it hasn't been an easy road for her.
It didn’t matter to her tonight if anyone was looking. It didn’t matter that she stood holding the door for seven strangers waiting for her brother and me to make our way to the door. She waited with a smile. A beautiful smile. I saw a little sister who wasn’t embarrassed by her autistic brother, but instead, I saw compassion, understanding and LOVE, above all, I saw LOVE and as I said, I prayed for this, so many times, and tonight, God showed me once again. He answers prayers. Maybe not in our time, but in his.
So no matter where you are along your autism parenting journey, be patient, and give yourself grace. I know it isn't easy, trust me, I know but I want you to know that whatever their destination, while it might not be what we expected or planned, it really can be magical if you are open to experiencing it.