As I write this, my seven-year-old autistic son sits next to me at a little table. He’s watching a YouTube video tutorial on his iPad while he follows along on a Roblox game on my old laptop. We just finished a family game of baseball so both of us are having some downtime. Since today is New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d write a list of what he accomplished each month in 2022. My goal is to provide inspiration and hope to others blessed to have autistic family members.
January 2022 – Tolerating a Delayed Flight and Missed Connection
In January, our family’s flight from Vancouver back to Orlando was delayed resulting in us missing our connection in Toronto. Hours at the airport meant our COVID tests were now invalid. Our luggage wasn’t available which meant neither were our heavy jackets. We waited in the frigid cold with thousands of other stranded passengers for a taxi to a hotel. We had to sleep in our clothes. Take another COVID test. My son handled the whole thing better than me. I was so proud of him! However, taking a flight with a connection is not something I want to do anytime soon!
February 2022 – Learning to Fish
He’s spent most of his short life in school and therapy. Time for recreation was limited. And when we did have time, most things were either too difficult, he wasn’t interested, or they became sensory overload. But this year, that has changed. He has an interest in so many things. We bought property last year in a community with boating club and are building a new home. This was the first time he’d ever fished. Since then, we’ve fished more days than I can count and he’s become quite the angler!
March 2022 – Enjoying Things That Are Difficult
This year my son started enjoying drawing. This is one of the first legible drawings he’d ever created. Even though it’s no work of art, fine motor skills are difficult for him. He’s gotten much better and now can follow drawing videos and he can create pictures from his own mind. A year ago, he would have never attempted to draw for pleasure. Now we have a kitchen cabinet overflowing with art supplies and drawings everywhere and I love seeing him enjoy being creative.
April 2022 – Making It Through Three Baseball Innings
In 2021, my Blue Jay’s loving husband got the three of us tickets to see a Spring Training game in Dunedin. My son was very excited. But when we got there he was confused. Decked out in his Jays gear, he thought was going to be playing. He melted down and we had to leave. I then taught him the difference between a spectator versus a player. This year, he made it THREE innings! That’s a win for us. Who knows, maybe this year he’ll make it four!
May 2022 – Learning to Love Boating
Shortly after we bought our property, we bought a boat. When we’d take our son out, he’d lie on his boat beanbag with his eyes shut. He’d only last about thirty minutes before begging us to go back. Now, he’s the co-captain and we can be out for hours at a time enjoying the Florida sunshine. Just yesterday we took the boat out for an afternoon cruise and enjoyed seeing the manatee that winter in Tampa Bay. He’s a lucky little guy to have so many fun things to do!
June 2022 – Moving
In June, we sold our Orlando home and moved to the Tampa Bay area to be near our new build and adult children. My son had to leave the only home he’d ever known as well as his beloved school and therapists to start over. I was so nervous about the impact on him. But he’s loved every minute of the new change. Our rental is across from a playground where he’s met friends. Although he misses his old therapists, he loves his new ones. Change is not easy. But he’s adapted like a champ!
July 2022 – Showing Interest in Sports
This one is a big win for Dad. Sports, neither watching nor playing, was ever of any interest to my son, until now. He has a huge bin of sports equipment at the front door. Almost daily we either toss a football, play tennis, baseball, or soccer. And I think this Spring we are going to sign him up for Buddy Baseball where special needs kids are paired with an experienced baseball player to learn the sport. He can’t wait!
August 2022 – Going to Public School
Due to COVID, I homeschooled my son for kindergarten and he went to a wonderful autism charter school for first grade. The autism charter school in our new community didn’t start until third grade and he’s only in second. I was terrified to send him to public school knowing he’d be in a general education classroom. But it’s been wonderful! He has a great teacher, made many friends, and everyone looks out for him.
September 2022 – Becoming a Reader
It seemed to happen overnight, my son went from being a non-reader one day to reading chapter books the next. And he’s loving them. I think this is not uncommon with autistic readers since many of them have expansive memory. He can not only now read anything you put in front of him, but it’s translated into also being a great speller. Instead of mom having to Google whatever it is he wants to look up—now he can!
October 2022 – Going to Restaurants
Restaurants in the past were challenging. He’d not want to stay in his seat, wouldn’t eat from the menu, and get over-stimulated which often led to meltdowns. But this year, restaurants are his jam! He especially loves when a kids’ menu has activities such as word searches and tic-tac-toe. We also have a backpack we always bring with coloring books and card games. Going out to eat is now fun for the whole family!
November 2022 – Beast-Moding the Cancun Aquarium
For the last several years, our family vacations in Cancun for Thanksgiving. In the mall across the resort is an aquarium. Every year we’ve gone, my son’s only goal was to use the map to find the exit. Not this year! With the help of his therapist, we made a list of tasks for him, such as touching a starfish and writing a sentence on how it feels. After he completed all the tasks, he could select a plushie from the gift shop. This time we all got to enjoy the sea creatures! And learned about them in the process.
December 2022 – Enjoyed Giving as Much as Receiving
This year for Christmas, I wanted my son to know what it felt like to give. We made a list of all of his family members. Armed with a clipboard and pen, we checked each aisle of the Dollar Tree until he’d found something for everyone. Back home, I created a gift-wrapping challenge. I precut paper, and prelabeled tags and he had to match gifts with tags and wrap. It made the process fun and engaging for him.
What’s Next for 2023?
I don’t know. But what I do know is based on what he’s accomplished in 2022, the sky’s the limit.
When it gets difficult is often right before you succeed.Chris Garrett