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Reflections as My Son on the Autism Spectrum Becomes a Teenager

My son, Adam, is 13 today. I now have three teenagers. I have to continually repeat this to myself for I often wonder how the heck this happened so quickly. But then again, the time it took to get here feels like an eternity. In some ways, having teenaged children seems like an “old hat.” I’ve enjoyed every minute of preparing for homecoming dances, prom and first dates. I’ve survived driver’s education, passing the driver’s test and taking the car out for the first time. I have even survived a first “accident.”  So far, I feel fairly unscathed. College applications are just around the corner, but I’m feeling confident watching my daughter navigate the process while I stand on the sidelines giving her my full support. So far, so good.

Yesterday, I asked Adam what he wanted to do on his birthday besides going to “The Friday’s Restaurant” for dinner. I like to take my kids to do something special; I believe an experience — rather than something material — will be remembered long after their birthday is over. This past year, we took Lacey to a concert, Alex saw “Hamilton” and Adam chose the car wash. I am not surprised; it’s what he enjoys. He goes to bed by 8:30 p.m. On most days, he wakes up by 6:30 am. He keeps his room in order, although the “order” may only make sense to him. He can always find his things; he puts them in the same spot every time. His LEGO helicopters are placed and labeled in various places in his room. He even has a certain color he wears for each day of the week.

Not too long ago, I was going through a mountain of pictures which at one time were intended for Pinterest-worthy scrapbooks. It was on this day I realized how unorganized my pictures were. I could barely narrow down the exact year most of the photos were taken. However, it occurred to me I could tell the exact day of the week a picture was taken based on the color of shirt Adam was wearing. I was suddenly grateful for his patterns.

While some aspects about Adam can be predictable, there are aspects that have been more complicated. I look back on the years of medical specialists, infections, surgeries, sleepless nights and battles with the education system. I reflect on the amount of experts who gave us their “professional” opinion “preparing” us for things they said he would never do. I look back on the immeasurable amount of time we invested into finding the appropriate resources to prove what Adam was capable of.

But though there were challenges, I would not change my life for anything. I would not change my son for anything. Adam has taught me more about patience, persistence, faith and resilience than anyone else ever could.

But today, my “hat” feels a bit unfamiliar, a bit different. I’m about to prepare for homecoming dances and prom from the vantage point of autism. And will there be a first date? Only time will tell.

Then there’s driver’s education. Adam’s plan of getting his permit at 15 and getting his driver’s license at 16 may follow a slightly different timeline. But I have full confidence he will be behind that wheel some day. The one thing I do know for sure is his grand plan of getting a blue Corolla for his 16th birthday is not going to happen.

And I’m excited to see what college brings. I continue to hear about phenomenal post-secondary programs for individuals with autism.

For now, I will focus on day one of my son’s teen years with autism. I’m fairly certain that I’m in for quite the ride.

Black and white photo of author's son as a child

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

Follow this journey on Kimberly’s blog.

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