Wednesday, August 22, 2012

You Cooked Dinner For Us - Time For You To Get Your Own Place

I know the title is a little silly, but it was the first thing that popped into my mind. Bear with me.

My son has autism, specifically, he is now considered to have Asperger's, which is on the higher functioning end of the spectrum. In the past 20 years of his life, I've seen him change and mature by leaps and bounds. He is in college and also part of a advocacy training program called Partners in Policymaking. For that, he travels (with me) to Raleigh once a month for intense training on how to advocate for change in his community. He doesn't see himself as an advocate nor does he see how  getting on a train and checking into a hotel are major milestones, even though they would have been completely unthinkable a few years ago. But, they are milestone and he is an advocate, albeit a quiet one.

A few nights ago, he walked up to my Honey and I late one afternoon, and with his usual calm aplomb, announced he was cooking dinner for the family. Both of us were shocked into silence, but I quickly recovered, and told him we would look forward to his creation, while internally, my mind filled with emotion, memories and joy.

Other mothers who are raising children with autism will understand. When our children make that milestone that looked like it would never come, it is a momentous occasion. We don't get the chance to shrug off these kinds of events. We learn to celebrate EVERYTHING that leads toward independence and self-reliance.

We waited while warm smells of grilled veggies and meats began to fill the air. He informed us that he was making a pizza from his latest favorite book, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Chef  Peter Rhinehart, a renowned local chef here in Charlotte. He told us he was trying a Mediterranean-style pizza dough and would improvise on toppings, using what we had in the fridge.

Again, Moms with children with autism, smile with me! Improvisation, adaptation, CHANGE! These are words that we usually do not hear associated with the behavior of our children.

So, what does this have to do with the title of this blog? EVERYTHING!

My son at 20 is as far along as I can take him. He still doesn't make friends easily, but has a few online and as well as one or two from his college classes. During dinner, he began to talk about internships with local animation/digital graphics companies, and maybe one day having his own studio. He asked  how to hire voice actors as he is now coordinating sound into his animated shorts instead of captions, a style he preferred in the beginning of his artistic journey. Again, improvisation, adaptation, change.

An example of a Mediterranean style pizza [Description: Round pizza loaded with mushrooms, artichokes, feta cheese, tomatoes on a thick sauce]
Half-way through what turned out to be a very filling culinary journey into the Mediterranean, complete with snippets discussed from the cookbook, I realized that this could have been a dinner thrown at his own place where we were invited over. The thought was chilling and exhilarating at the same time. Could my son live on his own?

I know some of you may say, Judi, one dinner doesn't prove he could pay bills, manage his money, cook, clean and go to school simultaneously without help. Well, when I moved out, my parents didn't think I could do that either! They were sure I would be back in less than six months. And, then it hit me.

I was in the same position my parents and thousands of other parents were when their child has grown up and is about to leave the nest. I felt the same rush of emotions they felt. As thousands of children young adults go off to college dorms this month, I realized my son was there; so close to doing that independent leap.

He noticed my silence and wondered if I liked the pizza. I assured him I loved it. I told him, I was sure he could have done the same thing in his own place. He paused, considered the idea, and said in his quiet, stoic style, "Yep, I could." With that, he rose from the table and began to clear the dishes away.

We are here, folks. We are at the point of apartment searches, dealing with neighborhoods and working with waiting lists. A pizza dinner started the conversation and planning for my son to have an apartment on his own.

I cannot say that every parent will reach this milestone with their child. Autism and Asperger's are not the same for everyone. It still may take us some years as we work through waiting lists and funding. But, again, my son has reached a point that no one thought to discuss even five years ago. And, with that one pizza dinner, adult life begins for him...and us.


  1. Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing a wonderful time in your life. It gives those of us with younger children hope.

  2. Thank yo for your comment! They are so appreciated.

    Yes, there is so much to be hopeful about now. My son was born at a time when ABA was not even a generally used therapy. Our families today have many options, and life holds so much promise for our children! Keep your head up, keep researching and advocating for your children.