This morning as I dropped my kids off at school I went into the classroom of J, my child with autism, to try to figure out the mystery of yesterday’s “missing” homework packet. His teacher was in the process of writing the daily schedule on the white board, and as I tried to find the homework in my limited time, J was completely transfixed by the process of the schedule being produced.
I looked in his desk, nothing. I looked in some folders there, nothing. I tried to get his attention to ask him. “J. Where did you put your homework? J. Look at me. Where is your homework?”
I know I’m not supposed to say “look at me,” and when the words came out of my mouth I immediately felt regret, but I needed his attention and that gave it to me, for about a nanosecond. He didn’t know where his homework was. I gave up the search. We walked over to his teacher to report the bad news (I had been emailing with his teacher about it yesterday so he was prepared for this) and his teacher asks him, too: “J. Where is yesterday’s homework?” J responds with “We have library on Wednesdays.”
At that moment J cared about nothing except the daily schedule. We were pushing him too much, I knew that. He needed time to absorb the schedule before he could focus on his homework, but the bell was about to ring and we didn’t have the time. We all stood there, and other kids stood there watching, as J managed to say “I don’t know where it is.” And that was the end of the discussion.
I left the room and, walking to my car, I encountered my other child, J’s brother, who is younger and NT. He was in a group of boys playing with some paper airplane and they were running and chasing it and laughing. He didn’t even notice me.
I walked away with a heavy heart. J is an amazing kid, and despite all the progress he’s made over the years, he is very much autistic. He will always be very much autistic. He will always be different, he will always be unusual, he will always stand out, in some way. As much as I try to prepare him for the world I know that I won’t be able to do that completely. He will inevitably face heartache and heart break and whatever other kind of pain the world is waiting with.
I want to grab him up and run home with him so I can keep him safe from what’s out there, just like when he was a baby. I want to put my arms around him and keep everybody else out; keep them from hurting him. I want him to be happy, and the uncertainty of it all sometimes is too much for me to handle. Am I doing enough for him? Am I doing the right things? I don’t know; I have no way of knowing. I can only hope that he will be able to make his way and that I will have given him enough tools to be equipped for the task.
I feel physical pain in my chest just writing these words. I don’t even care where his homework is.