For the past several days, I've been watching the back-to-school photos roll through my Facebook timeline. Many of my friends have children registering for kindergarten, a couple new middle-schoolers, and, like my youngest son, new high school freshman.
I took him to school for orientation myself this morning. He's at the age where I don't even put the van in park, just stopping long enough for him to gather his things and be on his way. It wasn't that long ago that I had to walk him into the building an hand him off directly to an adult. It seems like only yesterday that I worried about him running away while no one was looking, and here we are, getting dropped off at the curb.
He really has grown into capabilities far beyond what they projected for him when he was first diagnosed with autism. They told me he may not speak at all, nothing beyond movie quotes or sound bites from his favorite TV shows. They told me he may always be behind his peers academically, being so far behind socially that he was rendered incapable of catching up. They told me he would live with me forever (which may still be true, though it seems less likely), because he would never be able to function as an adult. They were so, so wrong.
Not only has he continued to exceed the limitations they put on him, he has THRIVED well beyond them in ways never expected. For example, his knack for visualizing things in space has led him to take electives in 3-D drawing and video production. So much for the idea he would never be able to hold a "real" job!
Still, the one area where it shows how much he still has to do, how much room he still has to grow, lies in his social relationships with others--typical for folks on the spectrum. Today, after he got out of the van, he walked toward a group of four students waiting outside. No one else was there yet. Just the five of them. The other four were all comparing their schedules to see if they shared any classes. Timmy walked toward them then veered left, walking around them in a circle. After a hesitation, he walked over to the edge of their circle and waited. I drove away hoping they would be kind to him, my weird kid who wants nothing more than to belong.
As the school fell out of view, I realized I think I can relate to how he may be feeling. I remember being a weird kid trying to fit into groups of my peers, to be included, to be part of the team, even friends. I remember what it felt like to walk up to people I didn't know or didn't know well with that hopeful grin hiding my fear of rejection. I remember how it hurt when I didn't make the right move, say the right thing, or know the inside jokes they shared, when I didn't understand why they were laughing. Timmy must be feeling something similar, though I am sure I will never understand the scale of it.
Timmy is special. Not in the way the education system labels him, but in the way he inspires those who take the time to get to know him. Timmy is one of those shining lights that leaves you more confident and sure things will be alright after you've spent time with him. His perspective is full of optimism, he expresses joy often in everything he does, and above all, he tells you the truth about how he feels when you know how to ask him. He softens the world by being a part of it.
Good luck, Timmy. May you be blessed with friendship, joy, honest laughter, and much, much success.