This week, my son Joey turned 18.
There’s nothing like parenthood to remind us of the passage of time. Most kids seem to just LOVE that time moves quickly. They are constantly dreaming of what lies ahead. They talk about what it will be like to drive, to get their first jobs, to go to college, to have a house of their own. They’re mentally in the next phase before they’ve even had a chance to enjoy the one they’re in. And as adults, we keep telling them to relax and slow down…but the irony is that we do so as we’re constantly checking the notifications on our phones or looking at our endless stream of emails and to-do lists, all of which put our own lives right in the fast lane.
Perhaps it’s human nature. Have you ever noticed that even from early childhood, kids tend to mark their age by pushing toward the next birthday? “I’m 8 and a half.” (instead of simply stating the fact: ‘I’m 8’). Or, “I’m almost 7.” (instead of proudly declaring, ‘I’m 6!’ Or, “I turn 10 this fall.” (instead of OWNING the age of 9). Sadly, they’re always one step ahead.
And yet, for kids with special needs – like our Joey – the experience of time is quite different. He processes things more slowly than others do. He needs more time to understand what we are requesting of him, or how to figure out how he’s going to communicate what he wants to us. He needs more time to acclimate to new environments or get accustomed to new stimuli. He needs more time to make transitions and to learn. And he needs us to GIVE him that time.
As parents of a child with Autism, the experience of time has been truly unique. Not only did we have to learn how to be patient as Joey took his time processing information, but my husband and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to give Joey wings long before we felt done giving him roots. We felt robbed of time. When he became a resident at Anderson Center for Autism, we had to accept the fact that the era with our son home full-time had passed before our eyes. We also had to embrace the fact that for Joey to have the highest quality of life possible, we needed to maximize the hours and days of his life by giving him the best, most intensive programming available. And that was at Anderson.
Now our time with him is more special than I ever could have imagined. We happily drive hundreds of miles to visit him on the weekends; every moment in the car completely worth it when we meet his smiling face at Anderson and see how happy he is there. The time we miss with him at home is time well-spent as he thrives in programs designed just for people with Autism – programs that have empowered him to move forward into the next chapters of his life with newfound skills and confidence.
Recently, we had a revelation as we prepared to shave Joey’s face.
Shaving him typically takes about an hour. Yes – far more time than it does for most.
As Danny (my husband) and I stood before Joey, who has very little language, we experienced a moment in time that was truly extraordinary.
“Razor,” he said.
We were, of course, blown away and just ecstatic to hear him speak.
In that moment in time, he gave us the gift of a word.
And I had a revelation just after he said “razor.” In our moments with Joey, we get the gift of time moving at a different, slower pace. A healthier pace. A pace that sets the stage for building stronger human connections, for cultivating real patience, and for helping another human. A pace that allows us to embrace the beauty of a moment like the one we experienced when Joey surprised us by saying “razor.”
We have much to learn from Joey, and all with special needs, about how to really experience time. It really comes down to celebrating each individual moment.