Do You Know That Your Resolution Has Made My Day?
By Teresa Hedley
"As I sat there eating my nacho chips, I watched you cutting up the ham for the casserole. And I thought, "I bet she wishes she was sitting here eating nachos and not cutting up ham. I bet she doesn't really want to be doing that at all...""
And then he abandoned his nachos, stood up and walked around the kitchen island.
"Can I do anything to help? Because one of my New Year's resolutions is to think about things from your perspective."
I blinked. We have been working on perspective-taking for fourteen years, and although I have seen glimmers of it in the past couple of years, never anything approaching this. Imagine, a self-initiated resolution to step into his mother's shoes... from an 18-year-old boy... with autism. I blinked again.
"I would love some help, Erik." And then, "Do you know that your resolution has made my day? My year? According to the textbooks, you're not supposed to be able to do this - to see things from my perspective. To empathize. But you do, you can... you want to... All amazing." And I hug him. He looks proud, but also practical.
"What can I do?"
So I get him an apron and we chop, reading the recipe together, sipping white wine. He is 18 after all. The vibe is relaxed, connected. Proud.
Heather comes in for a snack, and I excitedly tell her the news. "Erik has stepped into my shoes!" I relay her brother's New Year’s resolution. Her face softens. She looks at him, and like her mother, she finds herself in his arms, hugging him. For all of her frustrations with her brother, he is the sweetest, most authentic person she knows. "Erik, you've just made my day," she says. There is emotion in her voice. He smiles. He has heard this twice within ten minutes. It's not that hard to please a woman after all.
We continue to chop, fry, sauté and blend. He crushes potatoes chips for the casserole topping. He looks at me, brightly, pleased with himself and says, "Besides the extra hands, it's more fun with me here, isn't it?" I agree that it is. The people factor is also something we've talked about for years. It is a social world... most activities are better with people. He is serving my lines back to me, and I smile, but I do agree. Our casserole project has been fun. A combined effort is always better than a solitary march.
This has been another Erik life lesson. Just when you think Erik isn't with you, he most certainly is. He has a way of turning things right around. As I garnish the casseroles with paprika, I glance at him, hovering, watchful. Erik is a pretty interesting study into what's possible in life. He has the right attitude, a growth mindset and a sparkling positivity that is rare with autism - rare, period. All pretty neat. We've most certainly gone from frustration to fascination.
We pop the casseroles in the oven. I tell him, "That's it... Thank you... and you can take your apron off now." He doesn't seem to want to. He looks over at me, and with big Erik eyes feeds me another Hedley stock phrase, a sage quote we've used for years with the kids, and it fits beautifully:
"It's never about the place... it's always about the people."
This is the year I will also try to step into your shoes...
ABOUT TERESA AND ERIK
Teresa is a teacher, writer and autism advocate, but first and foremost, she is mother to Erik (18), a young man on the autism spectrum. For the past four years, Teresa and Erik have been writing a mother-son autism article series for Autism Ontario's Autism Matters magazine. The articles are written from both Teresa and Erik's perspectives and offer strategies for building resilience in those with autism and in those supporting autism. Erik and Teresa also create autism advocacy videos under the channel name, "AutismShoeViews". Teresa is working on a handful of autism curriculum projects, as well. Their current mother-son collaboration involves designing a tailor-made transition for Erik from high school co-op work experience to college student. Their working motto for 2017? "I can and I will!"
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