… Autism.” That was the message on the voice mail. Now for most parents that might deliver a terrible shock, but somehow -- at least for me -- this was more of a clarification about what might have been missing from my family tree. Not really so much about my son, but more so about my family when I was growing up. Finally, there was a term that made sense for why we were never really able to celebrate those holiday dinners like all the other families. Those happy gatherings were a missing part of the equation. We were simply not “hard-wired” to savor those intimate social events. Our circuitry was programmed to handle other stuff. Addressing tragedies and problematic matters were my parents' forte.
“Mr. xxxxxxxx, I was just calling back to make sure you received the message we left that other day that your son has …”
Oh, right! I never got back to them. I wasn’t panicking about the diagnosis. In fact, I was quite comfortable about it. Sure, it was a game-changer, but it seemed as if I lived in that environment for most of my life and it was something I knew and understood. Most everyone around me in my family was a high achiever; my older brother was a Juilllard Graduate, Fullbright Scholar and outstanding musician who suffered for many years struggling to connect with the world around him. My sister graduated as the first woman from Steven’s institute of Technology with a PhD in chemical engineering. She has eight patents to her name. My oldest brother remains an incomplete picture to me since he died in Vietnam when I was eleven years old, though I suspect he was the happiest of all of us. Mom and dad were great supporters of the arts and education and provided whatever was necessary to promote any advancement in learning. Dad would make a trip to Princeton to see if it would be possible for his sons to see Einstein, or even a trip to The New York Times to have an audience with the noted music critic Harold Schoenberg. Dad was always in awe of the towering giants who lived among us and sought ways to introduce his children to them. My sister was continually taking additional courses at Rutger’s Prep in science and chemistry. I remember going most Saturday mornings to take sculpting lessons with Waylande Gregory. It wasn’t until years later that I learned what a huge impact Waylande had in the arts and how respected he was. His works were even part of the permanent collection at MOMA. Imagine, I was just a little eight-year old who each Saturday went to his home. He was both amazingly patient and very influential as well as very accessible and wonderfully human.
Mr. xxxxxx, I was just calling …. “Yes, my apology for not getting back to you sooner.”
The process would now begin. Alex will have a new school with his new diagnosis. There would be meetings to attend for planning which school I would enroll Alex in and how to arrange for transportation to begin this new adventure as an autistic young boy. I embrace his autism and this new direction with as much passion as I embrace Alex my son each and every day. Autism does not so much define him as much as it simply offers a new and somewhat different road map. In many ways, his diagnosis explains my family -- doesn’t excuse it.
And I am OK with that.