The One Thing I Want for My Son With Autism in the Future
Shelby: “Whenever any of us asked you what you wanted for us when we grew up, what did you say?”
M’Lynn: “Shelby, I’m not in the mood to play games.”
Shelby: “Just tell me what you said, Mama. What did you say?”
M’Lynn: “The only thing I have ever said to you, ever, is that I want you to be happy.”
– An excerpt from the 1989 film “Steel Magnolias“
Recently, a woman posted a status on Facebook expressing her fears concerning her daughter’s future. Her daughter, who was diagnosed with autism, may never move out. She may never live independently. She may never get married.
I’ve thought about these things before. When I see friends post cute little memes about how they’re not just raising men, but they’re raising someone’s future husband and father, too, I think about my son and wonder if he’ll ever be a husband or a father.
But honestly? Those things don’t seem to mean as much to me as they mean to some others. And I’ll tell you why.
I know people my age who are happily married. I know people my age who have already experienced divorce. I know people my age who have had their hearts broken once, twice, three times. I know people my age who are complacently stuck in relationships that may never progress. I know people my age who are single and enjoy it — and who are single and miserable about it. I know people my age who are in committed gay partnerships, some who are even married now (yay 2016, am I right?), and some who raise children together — biological, artificially-inseminated, fostered, adopted. I know white, Hispanic, black, Asian dating and married couples, and I know mixed-race couples. I know people my age who are single parents. Some who tragically lost the loves of their lives through natural causes or accidents.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will. And let’s face it: Everyone’s future is different.
Let’s pretend just for a second that my son is a neurotypical child who will, with pretty strong certainty, live independently one day. He might plan a white wedding alongside a beautiful bride. He might marry a man instead. He might go through an ugly divorce, or quietly sign papers for an amicable one. He might have children, or he might decide parenthood isn’t for him. He might devote himself to a woman and live with her, father her children, but never propose. He might get his heart broken. He might dedicate himself so much to a career that he never has time for relationships. He might flit from lover to lover. He might marry his high school sweetheart like his daddy and live happily ever after. He might be attracted to blondes or brunettes or redheads. He might not have a type at all. I might dance with him on his wedding day. Or he might elope. He might, dare I say, stay single for years and years.
Are some of those scenarios more preferable than others? I suppose so. But they’re all possibilities, right? I don’t believe that just because I raise him in a home with two high school sweethearts who stay together, manage careers, raise him — that he’ll choose the same path we did. That’s not exactly a fair assumption, is it?
So let’s put autism back on the table. Because of William’s developmental delays, communication struggles, and diagnoses, we don’t know with any certainty what he can achieve yet. We believe in him and his ability to learn and progress. We believe he will do things that will blow our minds. We hope to see him excel in school and select a job or trade of some sort.
But really? We just want him to be happy. What more does any parent really want for his or her child?
And if he is 18, 19, 20 or even 30, unable to function completely safely independently in the big bad “real world,” move out, rent or buy his own place, or participate in a relationship of some sort, I suppose I might have sad days. Because it’s a natural progression for a child to move on and start a life of his or her own as an adult.
But when I read that post on Facebook, I couldn’t help but let one selfish, strange thought cross my mind: If William is unable to leave my home or choose someone to marry and spend his life with, how lucky am I that he will belong to me forever?
How lucky would I be for him to always, always be mine?
It may sound simple. But those little thoughts? They comfort me. Do I hope beyond hope that his transition into adulthood goes smoothly and he can choose where to live, what to be, who to spend his time with? Of course. Do I hope he owns a home one day and he can invite me over for the holidays? Absolutely.
But right now, William appears to be the happiest human being I know. And “the only thing I have ever said to you, ever, is that I want you to be happy.” So no matter where he is, what he’s doing, if he’s happy, I’m happy. Simple as that.
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