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The Emotions I Feel as My Autistic Son Prepares to Start College

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Today was my 18-year-old son Ryan’s interview for the My Place Program at Kutztown University. The My Place Program provides support services to students on the autism spectrum. Ryan spent an hour with the program director checking out campus and the sensory room (which he found very soothing) while I had a parent interview with the Director of Disability Services.

During my interview, there was a moment when the director had to hand me a tissue as my eyes began to well up. In that moment she probably assumed I was overwhelmed by the emotions most moms have at the thought of their bird leaving the nest — worry if they are ready, concern if you have prepared them well enough and the joyful heartache that comes with them flying away without you. Yes, those feelings will come but in that moment, it was none of them.

The feeling that overcame me and began to spill down my cheeks was sheer gratitude. That all of this was even a possibility. There was a time, a few short decades ago, mothers were told they were to blame for their child’s autism and that the best thing for their child was institutionalization. There were no discussions of majors, careers, sensory rooms, note-taking accommodations, extended testing time or specialized diets to help their child be successful in college. No, those mothers never dreamed of college, but they did believe in a different future for their sons and daughters, and at some point in time they said “no” to the experts and “yes” to their child.

So yeah, there were tears today, but they were not for Ryan or for me. They were for those who came before us. The mothers who never stopped believing and the sons and daughters who never stopped dreaming so that one day, my son and I could dream and believe too.

There will be many emotions in the months to come, but today the only emotion that prevailed was gratitude. And Ryan felt equally grateful that a local pizza shop has slices as big as his arm.

Originally published: February 19, 2020
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