Celebrating Differences: Taking the World by Storm
Robin Weisman will never forget the day her son Corey found out he has autism.
“Do I have Asperger’s syndrome?” he asked Weisman.
“What makes you think that?”she asked gently.
He points to a book on the counter entitled, Out-of-Sync Child.
“Is that for me? Because I am a little out of sync.”
How does a parent answer such a question? So much about parenting is unknown, an endless maze of both impactful and important decisions. Balancing two opposing considerations is fraught with difficulty. Do you shield your child from the truth, hoping to protect? Or do you roll the dice by being honest, hoping your child will react favorably to the news?
For Corey, the answer to his fateful question proved somewhat liberating. “It was validating to him – he had wondered, and he didn’t know,” Robin says. Learning about his diagnosis empowered him, helping to illuminate his experience. “I think it gave him legitimacy; and, he is very comfortable with who he is.”
This revelation had an unintended consequence. She recalls a time when she disciplined her son for acting rudely. “It’s my Asperger’s syndrome,” Corey said in response. Weisman wanted to react in an understanding tone while encouraging her son to reach beyond the diagnosis he had discovered on his own. “Yes, Corey, you are a person with Asperger’s syndrome,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean you get to excuse your behavior.”
This is the approach Weisman has taken in parenting her son. Espousing a loving manner, she eagerly attempts to use every opportunity as a teaching moment, being flexible in responding to whatever life throws their way. Her efforts have helped her son achieve a well-adjusted, independent life. “I am very proud of my son,” she says.
As she should be. Corey just celebrated his 30th birthday with his girlfriend of several years and 20 friends. He lives independently while working his dream job in a library. “He loves people unconditionally,” his mother says. “Is Corey perfect? No. But who is?”
Human nature precludes us from ever fully refraining from looking in the rearview mirror. Parents can torture themselves by engaging in thoughts concerning what might have been. While Robin concedes she made mistakes, she is careful not to be haunted by the past. “I’ve not always done the right thing,” she says. “But I don’t beat myself up over it.” She sees other parents who place pressure upon themselves to always make the right decision, but cautions against the drive towards perfectionism. “You do the best you can in any moment…life’s not perfect.”
Implicit in the idea of accepting life as it comes is the ability to let go of any preconceived expectations a parent may have regarding the direction of their children’s lives. Letting go of parental hopes and dreams, as pertaining to children, can be extremely challenging. Yet Weisman stresses the need for allowing children to plot out their own course.
She is well aware some of the typical milestones achieved by Corey’s peers may not be reached by him in the same way. “Will he marry and have children? Probably not,” she says. Yet she treasures the life Corey has built for himself. “He’s developed this really full life,” she says. Ultimately, her greatest desire for Corey is that he leads a happy and fulfilling life. “It’s not about me,” she says humbly.
She has learned the same sentiment often applies to the comments made by others. “People try to write someone’s future for them,” she says. While listening to the advice of others is important, so is taking the time to consider the source. Hurtful comments made by others are nearly always a reflection of their own personal experiences, allowing Weisman the freedom to refrain from letting inane chatter become a bother. “It’s really not about Corey; it’s about them,” she says.
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The judgment of others foreshadowed a period of isolation during Corey’s early years. She tells of the friendships lost, the pain endured. Despite the challenges faced, nothing could ever strain the bond between mother and son. “I wasn’t the kind of person who planned for motherhood,” she says. “So when I found out we were expecting Corey, I never looked back…” She talks of the excitement she felt during the pregnancy. “We had a connection like no other…I felt connected to him before he was born…” A sentiment to which most parents can readily relate.
As every parent knows, concern rarely fades, even once children reach adulthood. “I worry for my son,” Robin says. She talks of the extensive preparations made as Corey transitioned to living on his own; yet, despite careful planning, unforeseen challenges arose. Soon after he moved in, she received a phone call asking for help with the laundry. “The machines are different here than they are at home,” Corey told his mother. As she continues to prepare her son for a future without her, she remains concerned that down the road this could happen again without anyone to guide him. “I won’t be around forever,” she says wistfully.
Regardless, her journey with Corey has produced a sense of gratefulness. “I feel fortunate,” Weisman says. “Lots of great stuff happened because of Corey.” To parents, she has a few words of advice. ”You have to deal with the now.” Additionally, it is important to avoid letting others determine your child’s fate. “Don’t let anybody define your child,” she says, before adding a note of clarification. “I’m not saying excuse them – I’m saying accept them, and then work with them.”
As for Corey, he continues to take the world by storm, charming all he encounters with both his strong intelligence and beautiful soul. “He defines who he is…and he doesn’t let anyone define him,” Robin says. While much has been achieved, Corey’s life is far from easy. “People with Autism Spectrum Disorder still battle stereotypes, and parents still fight battles,” she says. Perhaps most importantly, no matter the challenge, Corey remains content. If given the choice, there is little he would change. “I like having Asperger’s,” he says.
This article was featured in Issue 86 – Working Toward a Healthy Life with ASD