Let’s say you are in a new town motoring down the highway. The surroundings are unfamiliar but you planned ahead and know the route you need to take. As you get to the city center a sign above the road reads, “Exit closed ahead, use alternate route.” Here’s the thing; that exit was your exit. Now what? You don’t have a map, you don’t have GPS, you had this grand plan and now you’re going to be left on your own to navigate the roads in an unknown city and you’re just going to have to hope find the right road.
Does this story sound familiar? Okay, it would’ve been a common occurrence two decades ago before the advent of all this excellent technology, but in a non-literal sense does it sound familiar? I had my life mapped out, I knew what I wanted and I knew the route to get there, but so often in life things don’t go according to plan and when I received my Asperger’s diagnosis at the age of 20 and the lack of guidance my doctor gave me I, in essence, was in that road situation I put forth earlier.
I was lost, my family was lost, and there wasn’t really any map of any kind to illustrate where I could go, what I could do, and how to get there. My response to this was to give up. What was the destination now and how could I possibly get there? What’s the point of trying to get somewhere when I had no directions and no one seemed to have answers?
The thing is this; I did give up for a long time and I didn’t care much about my life. However, the support I had around me kept me on the road and while my original roadmap didn’t quite pan out, the journey of the roads I took led me to where I am now. There’s been something troubling me as of late, though, and that is I’ve been receiving an increase amount of communications from parents about this same problem I put forth in the start of this.
As I said, eventually people put me on the right roads and slowly I began to learn about autism, learn about myself, and found my voice. It was a long road, perhaps keeping the road analogy alive you could say it was the scenic route, but I did get direction. However, there are many out there that are seeking that direction, and where to turn to. With the rates of autism continuing to rise more and more families are going down the road I was on. Each person, I think, has an image of what they want and what it will look like and when “autism” is put into the roadmap things aren’t what one envisioned. Where does one turn? What road should one take? Is there a wrong road? These are the questions parents are asking (in a non-literal fashion) but the questions are increasing and across America, and probably the world, families are seeking that road map, that right path.
My journey on the roads I took were long, but I know I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without it. Were the roads difficult? You bet they were! In the world I lived the concept of hope didn’t exist for many years, but somehow things turned out. Now what was the magic road? Well, there is no one road, but having a few key people at the right time pointed me in the right direction started the journey.
Because each person with autism is different the path will be different and the destinations will be different, but support and hope are vital. I’m thankful I didn’t go on this journey on my own and perhaps that’s the first place to start. There’s a lot to be said to not be alone in a journey in unchartered territory, and my family was there for me when I certainly wasn’t there for anyone. I may not have shown it, it was registering and I wish I had a way to tell the parents that have just or are about to go down this road of diagnosis that simply being there and being a support is gigantically important even if there is no visible sign that it matters. It does matter. The same goes for any person within the education staff, state staff, or any staff that can provide even an ounce of support.
My story didn’t end with me wandering aimlessly trying to find my way back on the path I originally set out for in my life. Would that path, which was me becoming a race car driving legend (trust me, I had the skill), have been enjoyable? Oh, I’m sure. The places I’d have gone, the people I’d have met, the fame, endorsements. It would’ve been awesome. However, while trying to find myself in the midst of the alternate route I found a different path. Is it better? No. Is it worse? No. It’s different and different is okay. Okay, this difference is much better because I’m helping many more people than if I were winning races on Sundays, but different is okay because everyone eventually, autism spectrum or not, is going to end up in a situation where they hit a “exit closed use alternate route” situation. Life isn’t predictable nor is it fair, but support and direction can be the difference between finding that alternate path or getting stuck on a cloverleaf interchange going around in endless circles trying to find a way, anyway, out of the path that they’re on.
I don’t have that magical roadmap, I don’t have the answers as to “do this” as my skillset is in describing the mechanics of what’s going on behind the scenes, but if this helps even one person move forward towards finding their right road then everything I went through finding my way has made my journey the most scenic of drives as I've learned that I am not bound by any one path, and growth is always possible meaning there's always a way forwards.