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Why We Couldn't Be More Proud of How Our Autistic Son Handled August

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Each year, millions of students whiz off to the first day of school without much of a problem. They may wonder who their teacher will be or if their best friend will be in their class, but it doesn’t really get in the way of them enjoying the end of their

For some time, this has not been the case in our house. The last three weeks of August in recent years have become a challenge for our 15-year-old autistic son John and by extension, for my wife and me. Every year we would brace for the inevitable firestorm of anxiety and tears and worry and stimming that would come like clockwork.

Every year we would do our best to keep him busy, keep his mind occupied. Fishing. Friend visits. Water Parks. Amusement  parks. Hit the pool.  Hit the beach. Hit the bottle (OK that one’s just for us!). Still the anxiety would arrive and it would just come on suddenly, and then largely dissipate after day one of school. The anxiety would be so bad he would scarcely enjoy the things we were working so hard at doing to keep him busy.

Sometimes I didn’t know what made me feel worse. Was it the fact that he had this anxiety, or was it the fact that he wasn’t enjoying anything at all?

We waited for it this year, the anxiety. Waited for it like that aunt who just shows up unannounced in a cab, tells you to pay it and then stays for a few days. We braced ourselves. We filled the calendar. We manned the battle stations and went on red alert, and do you know what happened? It never showed. And while you might miss an aunt who just shows up out of nowhere and visits, I must say we really didn’t miss the anxiety.

He went fishing, he hung out with his friends, he hit up amusement parks and fairs; and this year he enjoyed it all. Where there was brooding, we had smiling. Where there was angst, we had joy. As a parent, it was a beautiful thing to watch. To see him just being a kid brings me a sense of immeasurable joy. It was so much more than just the fun though. It’s a feeling of accomplishment. Like maybe the 8000th time I’ve said, “You’ve done this all before, and it’s fine, you’ll be OK” was finally the one that stuck? In that case I’m glad I never stopped saying it.

That feeling of success and accomplishment just doesn’t always come from the same place for parents of an autistic child as it does for parents of neurotypical kids. This August of Peace, as I now refer to it, is our “he made the team” moment for my wife and me. And you know what? We couldn’t be more proud of him.

Originally published: September 9, 2016
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