Extraordinarily Ordinary

One day in our orthodontist’s office, we were saying a not-so-silent prayer that Biddie’s $400 retainer could be replaced for the low, low cost of the Happy Meal it followed into the trash. My neighbor Lisa and her daughter, who we hadn’t seen much lately, were there too. Apparently, orthodontia unites us all.

We caught up on the headlines of each other’s lives, and I casually mentioned that Ace was running spring track.

“Do you drive him every day? Dylon ran cross-country in the fall, but my schedule changed, and I can’t give him rides home from practice. Could he catch a ride with you?”

“Do you think he would go with me?”

“I’ll work everything out.”

“Ok.”

And just like that, I started a carpool with my 16 year old neighbor. Nothing out of the ordinary for us as carpools are just part of the five kid equation—like laundry and astronomical food bills. But Dylon has autism, and that makes the equation slightly more complicated.

You know the saying about being a little pregnant? Well, Dylon does not have just a little autism.  I was concerned that Dylon didn’t really know me. I was concerned that he didn’t really know Ace. I was concerned that perhaps I had gotten not just me, but Ace, in over our heads.

But there was no need for concern. My neighbor, like most moms of kids with autism, hides her superhero cape well.  At 12pm, we were chatting it up in the orthodontist’s office. By 3pm THAT DAY, Ace and Danny had met with each other, the track coach, the special ed teacher, and my neighbor.

Unaware of all this mountain moving that had transpired since our conversation, I was still a little nervous.  So I sent her a text.

Me: How will he know to find me? Should I go to the coach?

Neighbor: Ace is taking charge of him. It’s cute.

Me: He can be a sweetie. And then his head spins. : )

Neighbor: Spits pea soup and everything? Cool.

It was all so. . . ordinary, and, for the most part, it has continued to be.

It was a little bumpy in the beginning. Ace was not particularly happy with the arrangement. Lisa and I had worked everything out before I even had a chance to talk to Ace—a rookie mistake. My crown was definitely looking a little tarnished.

In our old routine, Ace would walk with his track buddies to the front of school after practice and hang out until I arrived. With the dawn of the new carpool, Ace waited for Dylon to come off the track, and I picked them up right there . Ace didn’t mind hanging with Dylon, but he didn’t want to lose this social time, crucial to the ultra-social Freshman that he is. With a little time and talking, Ace created new routines with his friends that included Dylon. A couple of the moms even started picking their boys up where I picked up Dylon and Ace.

We had some smoothing to do with the rest of our crew too.  On the first day of our carpool, Eddie (4) shouted from the back seat, “Hey, who are you?” to Dylon in the front seat. Eddie’s attempts at first contact fell flat, so Eddie said, “Hey, why won’t he talk to me?” I turned to Dylon and said, “That is Eddie. If you say hi, he will probably stop screaming at you.” Notice my use of the word probably, we never REALLY know what Eddie is going to do. So, Dylon turned his head towards me and said, “Hi, Eddie.” Every time that Eddie is in the car, Dylon says “Hi, Eddie” right away. That’s a suave move for any kid.

Now, our carpool is our new normal. We drive Dylon home almost every day. We make sure he has a ride covered on the days we can’t drive him. We cheer him on with Ace’s other friends at the meets. In many ways, it’s just like every other carpool we have.

In other ways, it isn’t. Dylon definitely has autism. He doesn’t always respond to us when we talk to him, and he never looks us in the eye (although I have seen him scan the track like a searchlight for Ace).  He has the language and social challenges you might expect from someone with his diagnosis. But he is surprisingly flexible and accommodating too. When we have had to make another stop before heading home, he may have been a little concerned, but he rolled with it—a big bonus when you are hanging with us. Overall, he tolerates our noisy, silly, chatty crew beautifully, which is a high compliment.

In the end, I marvel at Dylon.  In my life BC (before children), I taught preschoolers with autism. In my work, I didn’t see ANY Dylons—kids dealing so beautifully with the noise and havoc that autism can wreak in the life of the mind. But those kids were just starting out after that initial diagnosis, and their families were still nursing broken hearts. Dylon has had years of great teachers (and even not-so-great teachers), some fine support from his schools, and don’t forget that SuperMomma I mentioned before. I have no idea how he is doing in school, but in life he seems to be managing really well. This, in the end, is what driving Dylon has given me—a chance to reimagine a future for those first students—and  I am careful to appreciate the moment.

When I get to practice early, unlike the other moms with their heads buried in their books, I watch the boys as they arc around the track. With their arms pumping and legs pounding, they move freely, easily, and gracefully.  Dylon is a natural runner, so he is a joy to watch.  This moment touches me—beautiful in the moment and the metaphor. This is what I wished for those students way back when.  Back then, we talked a lot about what it would mean to have an “exceptional” child with “extraordinary” needs.  There was a lot of talk about all the “wouldn’ts”, “couldn’ts”, and “wont’s”.  This is what I wanted for them always, even if you couldn’t always tell with the book-length IEPs, even if my imagination didn’t see quite this far into the future.  I always hoped they would have  a moment like this one—a chance to be, like Dylon, extraordinarily ordinary.

By Erin

 

 April is Autism Awareness Month.  The prevalence of autism has risen to 1 in 110 births, 1 in 70 for boys. Many of us have an autism story to share. This is mine.


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75 thoughts on “Extraordinarily Ordinary

  1. Delilah

    This is so beautifully written, Erin. My second son, Cam, has a syndrome that causes some behaviors similar to those seen on the Autism spectrum. It’s disheartening how many people have written him off without even bothering to know him. If only they could see what we see. Very powerful post.
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  2. Kathleen

    Beautiful piece Erin! I really loved how you connected your observations in the current day with what you hoped and imagined for your students when you were teaching. And I hope that for all of our children, regardless of their abilities and personal challenges, that they are blessed with a predominance of teachers like yourself, who want was it truly best for them and imagines for them a future filled with so much possibility. Danny is lucky to have you, Ace and your family, and likewise, I am sure you all feel lucky to have him in your lives.

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  3. TriGirl

    I really liked this post! I see the newly diagnosed, the not-yet diagnosed, and the elementary-level diagnosed children. Almost never the high school children. It’s always wonderful to hear that having autism does not mean total isolation from one’s peers.
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  4. Pam N.

    Beautiful, Erin. As a sister to a brother who is somewhere on the ‘spectrum’ (33 yrs old, so born in a time when diagnoses such as Autism and Aspergers were terms rarely heard of…’Learning Disabled’ was a blanket term used when that was not always indeed the case) it always touches my heart to find not only adults but children and young adults who don’t walk the other way when kids like Danny come into their lives.

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  5. Jennifer

    Erin, This was so beautifully written. I hope lots of people read it and learn that kids with Autism can be great playmates, teammates, etc. when given the chance. Having neighbors and friends who are open to accepting a child with Autism makes such a huge difference. My daughter has Aspergers and nothing makes her happier than just being treated like any other kid. It is a gift that you’ve given Danny the opportunity to do just that. Also, my daughter, who was in an early intervention classroom and could barely function is now a happy kid in a regular old 3rd grade classroom! I truly believe her early teachers are the reason why she’s done so well…so thank you for being one of those teachers. XO

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  6. Jester Queen

    A mom of two on the spectrum, I cheer for Danny. And I cheer for Ace. His willingness to open himself to a friendship without ever being warned about it, to bring his friends into that friendship, has got to mean the WORLD to Danny. And it will, in the long run, also mean the world to Ace.

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  7. Karine

    Ah wow, that’s really a beautiful post. It was really touching. I don’t know that much about autism as I’ve never really met anyone with this particular illness. But from what I’ve read (reading about an illness doesn’t necessarily mean that you KNOW about the illness…), Danny sounds exceptionally well adapted. It’s nice to hear about the success stories.

    Great post Erin!
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  8. Michelle Longo

    I love this. Many of the previous comments have said what I would already say. It’s so important that we give everyone – children and adults – the chance to be who they are. We need to get to know who they are, not just a label or a perception. It seems to me that your willingness to not be scared off by Danny’s diagnosis has rubbed off on your son and I think you are both to be commended for being open enough to see Danny for what he truly is – another person trying to make it through. Great post.
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    1. The Sisterhood Post author

      I loved your comment, Michelle: “It’s so important that we give everyone – children and adults – the chance to be who they are.” Erin is truly great at this. Ellen

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  9. Katie @ Chicken Noodle Gravy

    Erin, this gave me chills. What an extraordinary person Danny is, and his mom, and you and Ace as well. I suspect this is what every child with autism, and their families, wants and wishes for. And you described it all so beautifully. There’s no denying the challenges that are there, but instead of looking at them as insurmountable, some people, like you, Danny, and his mom, take them on head on and prove that a level of “ordinary” is attainable, even when you’re extraordinary.

    Beautifully written.
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  10. Stephanie

    This is such a beautiful post. I loved these words in particular: “beautiful in the moment and the metaphor.” Danny’s mom really is a superhero. I’m so glad that your family was able to bend to include him in your day. Your son Ace sounds like a really cool kid…he and Danny just might be helping his friends to understand difference a little bit better.
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  11. jamie

    Wow! What a beautiful story, Erin. I have heard of friends with autistic children. They are perfectly normal sometimes, but other times, they seem to be in their own world.

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  12. stephanie

    Lovely story. I love the scene in the car with Eddie. I like how you connected it back to your earlier experience. As if Danny does give you a glimpse into how your students may have turned out with the acceptance that you so readily offer. Really nice.
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  13. Pish Posh

    I got really caught up in this story! How did you get all these every day details mixed up so well with real insights and authenticity? Your voice is so frank, so honest, so real. And it is hard to truthfully capture teenagers. And the difficulties of integrating autistic children. Man. I really liked this!!
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  14. WilyGuy

    Very nice heartwarming story. Ace seems like the kind of kid who might get laughed at by the “cool” kids, but in the end it won’t bother him and he’ll meet better people because of his friendship with Danny.

    WG
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  15. Kerstin

    Erin, this is wonderful, brought tears to my eyes.
    When you described how Danny runs around the track it made me happy for him as well.
    I don’t know any children with autism, nor do I have anyone in my family with that diagnosis, but I have seen that many people/parents use social media to spread the word and connect and that is just awesome.
    Great post!
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  16. Kimberly S. (Sperk*)

    There is so much in this post, all of it beautiful and a testament to the power of parenting, especially when it’s done with love…and within a caring community. I wish every parent of every child could read this, not just parents to those with disabilities, or exceptional children…ALL parents. This is what it’s about. Thanks for this post. I’m sharing it everywhere. <3
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  17. Julie

    This is touching, not only because of the topic, but because of the obvious time you took to understand and work through the situation. It’s beautifully written and a glimpse into how we can change each others’ lives in little ways.
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  18. Megan Lawing

    This was beautiful. I have taught twin autistic boys in Sunday school and they really are so sweet. Just like the other kids but yes, couldn’t look you in the eye. But when they saw you out in public, they would just come running up to me and smiling and hugging me like crazy! This was a great post and reminded me of them.
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  19. deborah l quinn

    Nailed it. Stuck the landing. Not sure what the track metaphor would be, but you got that one too. I would imagine that parents of autistic kids who are younger than Danny are reading this and letting out long steam engine sighs of relief that maybe, just maybe, their “Danny” can have similar extraordinary ordinary experiences, too. Danny’s mom sounds like a pretty fantastic woman – who has a pretty fantastic neighbor & partner in orthodontia.
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  21. Emily

    Fantastic post…you are a wonderful role model for both your own kids by showing them they should treat all of their peers with respect, no matter what and also a wonderful role model for other parents, who may have no idea what it is like to parent a child with special needs. When moms like you are willing to go that extra step, it makes a world of difference…thank you!
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    1. The Sisterhood Post author

      Thanks, Emily. I was just telling Ellen that it might be time for a follow-up piece as the relationship has evolved and changed and taught us new things. Happy that it connected with you. Erin

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  22. Jessica

    I’m so glad I had the chance to read this and I’m all choked up and fighting back being blubbery over here. What you are doing for this family is so huge because you’ve made it easy and it usually isn’t. I have always had to drive and pick up and make extensive arrangements for Ashlyn because she doesn’t just pile into a carpool like the rest of the kids and parents don’t take the time and the care that you have. Thank you, a million times over.
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