When I Had to Follow the Same Advice I Give My Son With Autism

So after a fantastic start to a new school year, the novelty has worn off and both my boys are exhibiting signs of stress. Reality is setting in, which is totally manageable… except when it’s not. My job has been more bomb squad than mother lately, diffusing problems between and among these brothers over and over again.

So after a morning filled with explosive close calls, after Peter is safely deposited in the middle school and I finally get to the front of the high school drop off line in my car, I notice that TJ’s backpack is looking a little light.

“TJ, do you have your binder?”

“UGH! It’s at home!”

Now I see his frown and his eyebrows furrowed, as my Mr. Perfectionist’s morning is ruined.

This happened yesterday, too. Except yesterday it took me over 20 minutes to find his binder after tearing the entire house apart looking for it. Eventually I found it in the basement near the laundry. Of course… why didn’t I look there first?

So I asked TJ if he knew where he had left it, while the car line behind me is getting longer and longer, and TJ is standing outside of the car.

“I left it at home! I just said that! You never listen to me!!!”

Deep breath.

“No, sweetie, I mean do you know which room at home? It took me a long time to find it yesterday.”


Realizing how quickly this is escalating, I give TJ my warmest, calmest, most loving smile as I tell him to head in so he’s not late. Not to worry. I will go home, find it, and bring it back to him right away. Breathe deep, TJ, everything is fine.

So he breathes deep and closes the door. He’s still frowning as he turns away to walk into the school.

So I drive home like a crazy person, find his binder (and his math book, too, by the way), get back in my car and drive back to the high school. Of course I’m behind the only person in the neighborhood who thinks 15 mph is a totally reasonable speed.

I get to the high school, park and head in. First bell hasn’t rung yet, and the lobby is packed with kids. I look around — no TJ. I walk further into the crowd and look some more — no TJ. I see one of TJ’s friends who says hello, and I ask him if he has seen TJ. Nope. No one has.

Now a little flame of panic is lit in my belly. TJ has been known to bolt on occasion if he is upset and wants to go home. He was upset enough at drop off that this was a very real possibility.

I head into the office to the lady behind the desk who does the paging. I tell her my son forgot his things and can she page him please?

Sure, she says, leave them right here and I’ll make sure he gets them.

No, I say. He has autism and was upset when I left him here… I need to lay eyes on him. He sometimes bolts when he’s upset.

OK, she says and picks up the phone.

Whew… I think. She’s paging him.

No… wait… she’s not paging him, she’s making a phone call.

SHE’S MAKING A PHONE CALL?! Didn’t she hear me say he bolts? Hello?! What kind of place is this?

I begin looking around desperately for someone who can help me. Panic is rising faster in me as I think of him wandering around this part of town he has never walked in by himself.

Finally I lock eyes with the receptionist who says, sweetly, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, TJ Jordan forgot his things, he has autism and was upset when I left him, and I need him paged right away. There is a chance he has bolted.”

“Oh, yes, TJ. I’ll page him right now.”


She pages him, and in less than a minute I see him walking towards the office.

It’s everything I can do to not bust out in tears. But I hold it together as he enters the office.

“Hi, buddy! I’m so happy to see you! I have your binder and your math book. Where were you?”

“Hi mom!” And there’s that smile. “I was in the art room. Thanks for bringing me my stuff.”

“TJ, I was worried for a second there that you took off.”

“I didn’t take off, mom, I’m right here.” And that smile, again.

“OK, bye mom.” And off he goes, before I can even say, “Bye, sweet boy. Have a good day.”

So the moral of the story is — there is a time for calm, and there is a time for panic. I still can’t tell the difference sometimes. But regardless, in times of trouble, I have to remember to follow my own advice that I gave to TJ earlier…

Breathe deep. Everything is fine.

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This post originally appeared on I Don’t Have a Job.

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