Driving, Autism and Sweet 16

16 and autismAs an autism parent, you know that when your child hits a milestone it is a huge cause for celebration. You also know that those milestones are harder to reach and usually don’t happen on the same timeline as your friends’ kids do.

This was something I struggled with in the early years after Taylor’s diagnosis. Watching his peers fly past him and hit all the childhood milestones that we as parents take for granted…that was very hard.

I have blogged about some of this before. The emotions I have gone through as I watched my friends’ kids surpass Taylor on things such as talking, potty training and making friends have been all over the place. I went through a silent depression those early years trying to focus on Taylor, not letting anyone know the sadness I felt that Taylor was being left behind.

As time went on, I realized that Taylor was on his own timetable. I began to understand that Taylor was not sad. Taylor did not feel left out or left behind…I did.

Was it really about Taylor or was it about me? I had made it about me.

Not intentionally. I really wanted those things for Taylor but I also wanted them for me as well. I had my own expectations of “parenthood milestones”.

Didn’t know that was a thing, did you?

I don’t know if that is an “official” term, but it’s my term for it. What do I mean by “Parenthood Milestones”?

When you find out you are going to be a parent, there are things that you just expect will happen. You never really talk about these expectations with anyone because they are, for most people, a given. Just par for the course. Your child is going to walk. One day they will talk and that will lead to making friends. Then there will be sleep-overs and spend the night parties and one day there will be girlfriends. Then the day comes you will have to teach them to drive and have the discussion of why motorcycles scare you. “Parenthood Milestones”.

This way of thinking is something I had to change. What I chose to do instead is finally accept that Taylor was not going to hit the typical milestones as his peers. At least, not yet. I believed that things would come but I realized that it would just be on Taylor’s time. On God’s time.

So here I was, years later, feeling like I had come to terms with things. I had become positive and had stopped dreaming about what should have been or could have been for him. Taylor was doing great! He was surpassing his teacher’s expectations and achieving new things constantly! I had not experienced a depression in a long time but then, one day out of the blue, it happened. I was struck by a sadness that I hadn’t felt for a long time and I was not prepared for it.

Taylor was turning 15.

As much as I believed that I had accepted that Taylor would not be learning to drive the same time his peers were learning, I discovered the hard truth that I hadn’t truly accepted it all. What I had done instead is refused to think about that particular milestone that seemed to have snuck up on me.

Facebook can be a wonderful thing. I have many more positive things to say about Facebook than I do negative, but one thing that is very true is that through Social Media, you are constantly watching other people live. You are a witness to other peoples’ achievements (I mean, who really post about their failures?!). And as a parent, you are a constant witness to other people’s children accomplishing things.

I really love this aspect of Facebook. I love being able to keep up with how my friends’ children are doing, their accomplishments and achievements. I love that Facebook gives you a platform to brag about your children and grandchildren. Hell, I do it too!

That being said, Facebook has also been something that seemed at times, to remind me what Taylor wasn’t able to do. Reminding me of friendships he didn’t have and the things he couldn’t participate in.

It also brought up that old feeling for me of feeling “left out”. I didn’t want to feel it, but one day, scrolling through my feed I came upon a post that seemed to slam me in my seat. Suddenly, all those feelings came rushing back. That sadness. That feeling of loss over a time missed. A parenthood milestone not met.

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It was an innocent post by a good friend of mine. It was a photo of her daughter holding up a driver’s permit with the caption, “Look out! She is legal and is on the road! I am not ready for this.”

“I am not ready for this…”

“Really?” I thought. Well, I was! I wanted that moment so badly! I wanted to be able to post that same picture but with Taylor sitting in the driver’s seat holding up that permit.

Suddenly I was crying. I eventually shrugged it off and refocused on the positives, but it was still there. Nagging at me in the back of my head. Taylor was missing out and I felt that I was missing out on something special with him.

Soon we were coming up on Taylor’s 16th birthday and once again, I was sad. I think I posted that day about how other parents should be grateful because not all parents are granted those moments and how I would give anything to have had that moment of having a new driver with Taylor. Where that may be true, it was also a very selfish post. Why should I make other parents feel guilty because their children were able to do something Taylor couldn’t? It was an emotional post…and it was wrong.

I think I moped around most of that day. Crying off and on about something I wanted so badly for my son. Then Taylor came home from school. He had checked out a book about New York City and was excited to show me all the things he wanted to do when we went there the following week. Yes, we had surprised Taylor with a trip to New York City for his 16th birthday since he wasn’t going to be getting a car. We had saved up for months for this and Taylor was so excited.

16 and autism new york city

Taylor and his brothers had a smile on their face the whole time they were in New York City.

Guess who wasn’t sad he wasn’t driving yet. Guess who wasn’t sad he wasn’t getting a car for his 16th birthday. Guess who had no desire to even think about getting behind the wheel of a car.

Yeah. That kid.

Taylor set me straight that day without even realizing it and reminded me that those milestones are not nearly as important as the special moments we have…and our life is so full of special, happy moments.

Our trip to New York City? It was amazing and something I would not change for anything. We made memories with our boys that will last them a lifetime. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I now know it was far better than Taylor getting a car for his birthday..but that is a story for another day.

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