Sometimes with autism, a simple conversation can suddenly reach down into your heart and change your life and your future path forever.
Like many of you, we have been experiencing hard times with this Great Recession, and financially we have come to a crossroads. Do we stay where we are or do we move in hopes of securing a better future financially? It’s been a roller-coaster of a ride. We have lived in our home for 24 years, (except for a brief attempt at job security on the other side of the country), and we have met and overcome our family challenges right here … in this home … in these beautiful mountains of Virginia. This is where our children were raised, educated, fell in love, and moved into their own homes . . . and this is where our youngest, Matt, has fought his many battles with autism.
It’s important to have the financial security to provide a good life for Matt. Sometimes the emotional cost was overlooked – like that last move to Arizona. Recently, I have been at war with myself over the direction our future should take… again. Do we sell our home, move to the city and leave this wonderful place? Do we? I decided about 6 months ago that in order to full-fill my job as Matt’s caretaker, guardian, conservator, and mom, that I would do whatever it took to make sure he was happy and his dreams of living independently became a reality. Regardless of the emotional attachment to this home, my job, my friends, and our other children, I would do whatever Matt needed me to do. Matt has worked so hard to achieve his "ultimate goal" of independence that I would not let him fall. I will always be his cheering section, his voice, his champion. I will see him reach his ultimate goal and neither hell nor high-water would deter me from it. I would do whatever Matt needed me to do – just as I always have.
But Matt is not a child anymore and independence is not just the ability to live alone, but also to make decisions that affect his own life. What is best for Matt? Do I decide for him? So when the possibility of a new job arose out of state I had to really think things through.
My husband is on contract but unfortunately, contracts are short and sporadic. He needs full-time security. A job within driving distance would be the perfect solution, but the Great Recession has made that possibility iffy. I also need full-time now – both to pay our bills and to help my son obtain his dream. Moving to a neighboring state could actually take care of both. There are jobs there for both my husband and myself, and, in addition, a big city would have better services, buses, concerts, museums, and shopping that could enhance my son’s life. I convinced myself that for Matt, moving was best. Personally, I love it right where I am. I am willing to try and ride-out the recession, wait for the right job, hold on to my own dreams of living in these beautiful mountains. Unfortunately, that may not be possible as we have been holding on now for 5 years and our financial resources are all dried up. Moving to secure full-time employment might be in all our best interests, and North Carolina has been tempting us with the possibility of jobs and resources. It seemed North Carolina could be our future path. I thought maybe it was where God meant for us to go. What I hadn’t yet done was to ask Matt what he wanted. What were his thoughts on this dilemma? It’s not easy pulling thoughts from Matt’s mind. It is a complex interaction that must be very carefully choreographed. Although he is highly intelligent, loving, funny and talented, he is not a conversationalist.
Matt is a 26 year old man of few words. Conversations are mostly one sided, with me doing most of the talking. Matt has always answered in sentences that are always either black or white – there are no grey areas to his replies or requests. I love that about my son, but I also had to work hard for many years to perfect my role in a conversation with him. I had to learn how to ask a question just right, how to present a problem based upon facts, how to explain emotions so he could understand the entire, complex situation. I also had to learn to listen to my son. His words, his body gesture, his facial expressions, his tone of voice – all had a part to play in his replies. Listening to Matt requires reading every aspect of his being. And so it was, that one day not so long ago, I sat down with my autistic son and presented the dilemma of our future path to him, in black and white. I gave him the good points and bad for each path; the big city or the small mountain town in Virginia. I was careful not to allow my own emotions to sway the decision. I was careful to be honest about the good points and the bad. I wanted his opinion – not a reflection of my own desires. I spoke directly, presented the facts, and assured him we would do what he wanted. I stressed to him that he was a full grown man and his opinion counted. A period of silence followed. I was totally convinced he would choose the big city.
Matt loves North Carolina. We had visited the area many times and he loved it. He knew the main roads, the locations of the museums, shopping and other attractions and even stayed in an apartment there for several weeks with my husband while he was on contract. I prepared myself for a future move and the pain of leaving this beautiful place and all its memories. It was his decision and I would go whereever Matt needed me to go. I waited for his reply and found myself holding my breath. I just knew my life was about to change and a new path would be set before me – I hoped I was ready to move and start our life again in a new place.
When he spoke, he did so directly at me. His smiling face made me realize he was sure of his decision. His body was relaxed, his voice light. Matt had been waiting to be asked a very long time. He now had his chance to enter the conversation and would speak his mind. “I want to live in my mountains. I want to ride my bike to the stores and to see the fireworks from the elementary school on the Fourth of July. My brother will take me to the county fair, and we will climb the rock wall, eat lunch and shop at the bookstore in Roanoke. You will stay with me at my new apartment sometimes, and sometimes I will stay with you. I will have an apartment in my Appalachia.”
I sat stunned. No museums, no big stores, no buses, and he didn’t care. The Appalachia Mountains was his home and his life and they had a stronger hold on him than I realized. He must have thought about this for a long time as he spoke of plans on how his future summers would be, where he would go and who he would spend time with. Our future path had just been set in stone – Matt would attempt his independence right here in our own little corner of the world. His words reached down into my heart and suddenly I knew my future path. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how long we would continue to fight to stay in our home, where the jobs were, or where Matt would have better resources. Suddenly, I knew the only thing that mattered was the full-filling of a dream - and my dreams and my son's dreams were one in the same. Suddenly….
I know, without a doubt, that we will follow our dreams. My joy is overwhelming. My resolve is great. Come either hell or high-water I will see my son’s dreams come to fruition right here in my own Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia… and nothing, not even the lure of more money can deter me from making that happen - nothing. Thank you, Matt.