Short Stories: Living with Autism

» Posted in Family Life, Parenting | 6 comments

crossing

The following short story was submitted by Benjamin T. Collier, a remarkable young man with firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to live with Autism.  To learn more about Ben, look for his upcoming autobiography, My Life A.S. Is:  An Inside Look at Autism and Aspergers Syndrome, published through Word Alive Press.  He also has a fantasy novel, The Kingdom, that was published in 2011.

 
The Crossing

Along they walked, side by side. He’d been told enough times now to remember this rule. They always walked side by side when they walked to school. He didn’t have to hold her hand; she said that was ok as long as they stayed together. So he walked by her side and talked in his head to his imaginary friends.

The boy was oblivious to his surroundings most of the way and the other mothers and children who walked the same path. But he noticed that some of the other children held hands with their mothers, swinging their arms back and forth. Their mothers had obviously told them that they had to hold hands. He wondered why they had different rules from his mother.  He’d come to accept, but still constantly questioned why rules applied to some people and not to others. The rules were different for the bigger people, parents and other adults, and sometimes his big sisters too.

His mother greeted the crossing guard and the other mothers as they came to the crosswalk. Then suddenly, the boy darted from beside her and started off across the road. Approaching cars skidded to a screeching halt. Faces were red with panic and anger. The drivers scowled and the crossing guard blew her whistle with ferocity.

The boy’s mother lunged forward and ran to grab her son from in front of the cars. As she did she could hear the other mothers shouting heatedly at her son, “Unruly child!” “That was a stupid thing to do!” “You know you never cross without the crossing guard!”

And she heard some mutter under their breath, “Terrible mother” and “Should be ashamed of herself.”

She carried on across the road, holding tightly to his hand now, trying to ignore the comments and keep calm. After all, they didn’t understand. Her son looked like any other child. Why wouldn’t they expect him to follow all the rules?

The boy heard the words they shouted at him, but he took none of it to heart. They were just repeating the rules, feeding him information he already had. The rules were stupid. That’s all there was to it. And there were too many of them. He preferred his world. There he could do whatever he wanted without rules and he could play all day and no one got annoyed with him. His world was safer and happier. He wondered why other people didn’t live in their own worlds too. Why did they insist on living in a world that didn’t make any sense? Why did he have to live there?

When they reached the other side of the road his mother kept a tight hold of his hand and told him to look at her eyes. He knew that was the signal she wanted to talk to him. He knew he had done something wrong again. His puzzled little face lifted and he gazed into her eyes, trying his best to concentrate on her words.

“Why did you try crossing the road without the crossing guard?” she asked in a soft voice.

A question? He wasn’t expecting that. Didn’t she already know?

“It was safe to cross,” he answered, “The cars were all far away. I knew they would stop in time and they did. I was right. Why am I not allowed to make the cars stop instead of the crossing guard? Why do I have to wait for her to say it’s safe? Why do the cars listen to her and not me?”

His mother frowned a little, at first, then something lit up in her eye and her lips curled. He believed that was what people called a smile. “Because she has the STOP sign”, his mother said, “And you don’t.”

He thought for a moment, a frown on his tiny forehead. Then he looked up at her and gave her his own smile; he knew she liked that and it’d make her happy. “Okay”, he said in his matter-of-fact voice. Maybe some day when he was old enough he could buy his own STOP sign. Satisfied with that dream of the future, he ran to the playing field. Free for a little while till the bell rang and the confusing rules would start again.

 —

As this short story demonstrates, people on the autistic spectrum see the world very differently from “neuro-typicals” (a term they use to describe those of us with non-autistic brains).  Although they often find it difficult to fit in, learning to accept, nurture and celebrate their differences is an important first step to flourish as the person God created them to be.  There are a growing number of associations and organizations that provide wonderful resources to teach and connect individuals and families of those on the autism spectrum, such as The Geneva Institute for AutismAutism Society Canada, or Autism Speaks (which lists some of these organizations worldwide).

Some of the typical characteristics of individuals on the spectrum include: a lack of understanding of social cues, lack of social and emotional reciprocity; difficulty understanding his/her own emotions and the emotions of others; misinterpretation of literal and implied meanings within verbal and nonverbal communication; impairment in the use of non-verbal behaviours to regulate social interactions; a preference for structure and predictability, especially in social interactions; black and white thinking; inflexible adherence to specific, non-functioning routines or rituals; and difficulty tolerating change.  People can vary greatly in the severity of their symptoms – from those who are extremely bright and high-functioning to those who are non-communicative and require constant care and supervision.

Having the privilege to work with a number of people on the spectrum, it is with great respect that I dedicate this short story to them.  My hope is  that is that we would take the time to understand and accept those individuals in our midst who are on the spectrum, and as well, offer our compassion to those parents who struggle to help their children cope in a world that can be hostile to them.

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6 Comments

  1. We have some great resources right here in our community: Autism Ontario, Autism Ontario-Durham Region and Kerry’s Place Autism Services, to name only a couple.

  2. Thank you for the perspective, Ben. Can’t wait to read your autobiography!

  3. I want to say thank you to Ben for sharing this story. I look forward to reading your book when it is published! Thanks Merry for the post!

  4. Hey Ben…thanks for the excellent short story…looking forward to the next book..’My Life A.S. is”…its been a privilege getting got know you and I appreciate and value your friendship!

    Keep on keeping on…Doug

  5. Wow, thanks for the encouragement you guys!

    I co-wrote this with Lynne Collier. It was fun process.

  6. Thanks for sharing this story, little bro. I love to glimpse the world through your eyes. And I can just imagine your puzzled look and mum’s smile. I hope you know how much you are loved, and how much more you will be understood as you share the stories of your life with others. So proud of you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Short Story on Autism | Benjamin T. Collier's Blog - [...] http://www.drmerrylin.com/2013/05/short-stories-living-with-autism/ [...]
  2. A Short Story About Autism – Written by My Brother | Living In The Moments - [...] Check out this short story about life through the eyes of a young boy with autism as he walks…

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