I originally wrote this post in June of 2007, when I was working in the Admissions Office of my alma mater. I've been thinking about the men in this post a great deal since James' birth. I've been thinking about my conclusion, too.
Here at the college we have a program where our deposited kids come to enroll in their fall classes.
Earlier one of my deposited students, S, came with her parents and autistic brother. At lunch I went over to S's table and introduced myself to her parents and chatted with her. I didn't say anything to her brother, nor did I ask about him. Later, I was talking with S and her brother was right at her side. However I never shook his hand or asked his name. I never acknowledged that he was there. I didn't really realize I had done this - basically ignored his presence - until I was reflecting on it later. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't do anything. (I would have with any other sibling.) But, frankly, I was a little afraid to.
Then I had another family come, this one for an individual visit where I would need to walk them around so the girl, M, could get enrolled, etc. She too has an autistic brother and I vowed that I would not ignore him the way I had S's brother. I found myself waiting with M's brother often as M took care of business. At one point we waited for 50 minutes and M's brother talked to me the whole time.
It was exhausting. He changed topics in a snap and spoke with great detail about helicopters, politicians and dates. I knew little of what he was talking about but I tried to follow despite his slurred speech and the speed at which he spoke. He had incredible energy, a loud voice and got closer and closer to me as he talked. He stared at my chest the whole time. By the time I was done walking them around I was so drained and overwhelmed I almost broke down when I got back to the office.
Both of these experiences have left me wondering about the families of those with autistic children. A Catholic man I studied under once said that having an autistic son has made everyone in his family better people, he is a better father, his wife a better mother and his other children better siblings, but that he would never wish it upon anyone.
I was drained after 2.5 hours with one and overlooked another. I have often thought that I am not a strong enough woman to handle having a special needs child, but after these encounters I wonder if anyone really is when it happens to them. You either get strong or die trying.