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In Their Own Words – The Silver Lining

June 20, 2010 24 comments

Did you ever do something completely outrageous, if only just to satisfy your special needs child? It’s like a moment when you surrender to autism, and you can’t decide if that is good thing, a bad thing, or just a fact-of-life-on the spectrum autism thing.

That was me this past weekend.

I was trying to put a positive finish on an up-and-down weekend. I had cringed as Trevor struggled to follow instructions at the hockey clinic he attends. I beamed when he came off the ice smiling, proudly telling me how sweaty he was from the hard work. I took it like a kick in the gut when I asked Trevor what his friend from special needs camp might like to do on a play date and the answer began with “Well, I like garages and he likes traffic lights …”

Trevor does like garages. He classifies all houses by their garage doors, and he describes the doors by naming their color/window scheme, starting from the bottom up. There’s “brown-brown-brown-brown” and “white-white-white-glass” and “white-white-glass-white” (because the windows aren’t always in the top row. Who knew?)

There’s even “ficky glass” – his word for windows that aren’t square but rather are some fancy shape. Oh, and “T glass,” or windows with four panes instead of one.

Apparently our garage door – “white-white-white-white” – is the lowest of the garage low-rent district.

A week ago, when we were talking about garage doors (in an attempt to distract Trevor from his anxiety over the brutal traffic coming back from the Jersey shore), I happened to mention that ours was actually “white-white-GLASS-white,” which has much more status in the garage world. The windows had been painted over by some previous owner.

Ever since that moment he’d been asking me if we could scrape the paint and transform our garage. It was not a project I was enthusiastic about, for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, on Sunday I finally ran out of excuses.

The clincher came when Trevor agreed to go with me to the store to get the supplies. He NEVER agrees to go to the store, even if it’s to get him something.

I relented. I was ON BOARD. So what if it was 90 degrees and 1000% humidity and I would be scraping paint inside the unventilated garage with the door closed? (Did I mention the windows were painted on BOTH SIDES?) Darn it if I wasn’t going to win Dad of the Year, or die (likely from paint-chip inhalation) trying.

A few minutes into the job I realized how futile it was. The paint was stubbornly clinging to the windows. I had to keep shooing Trevor away from helping for fear he’d inhale some of what I was trying to block with my 99 cent painter’s mask.

Finally, I got a single pane cleared – on the outside. Dripping in sweat and covered in paint flakes, I decided that I would do the inside of that one window and stop. Then I’d let Trevor come up with a new name for the resulting garage scheme.

I moved inside the garage to do the other side. I shut the garage door and started scraping away. I got it about half done when I pushed a little too hard and the glass shattered. My heart sunk. My anger spiked.

I was angry to be soaked in sweat, inhaling God knows what, scraping stupid paint off a stupid garage door window because if my son was “normal” I wouldn’t be there. I was angrier still that I wouldn’t be able to deliver for him. I threw down my scraper and threw open the garage door – conveniently forgetting that in doing so I was raising the glass shards directly over my head. The glass came crashing down on me. I felt my scalp. My hand was covered in sweat, and more than a little blood. Luckily it was just a nick.

I went inside. For about the tenth time since I had started, Trevor asked if I was all done, and his look just broke my heart. It was as if an affirmative answer would have made everything all right, if only for a moment. I think as special needs parents, we are always trying to deliver those moments. Every once in a while we can reorder the world to suit our kids.

I told Trevor the bad news. I feared a meltdown. He took it well, but was disappointed. I went back outside to tape some cardboard over the shattered window, and then finally allowed him to see my work.

He looked it over and pronounced the result “okay”. We now have a “white-white-SHADY GLASS-white” garage. In the words of the Jeffersons, we’re “movin’ on up.”

I told this story to several co-workers Monday. They got it but they don’t GET it. And that’s okay, too. Maybe the next time they see a child with an “odd” interest or one melting down in public, they’ll think twice about their reaction. Maybe they’ll start noticing exactly how many different types of garage doors there are, too.

The silver linings are out there, they’re just sometimes, really, really, REALLY hard to see.

This “In Their Own Words” essay is written by Russ Levine, a father of two children, one who has autism.

If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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