Less is more.
This is an approach I have taken of late with 15-year-old Beckett.
There was a time when our teenager didn’t share much with us. I would say now he shares a lot, but it’s more like a lecture or rant about a social topic, school matter or random observation.
For instance, I listened one night for about 15 minutes to argue the negative impact preparing for the PSAT and SAT have on teen minds. His premise revolved around whether success or lack thereof on these college admission exams will truly impact his life moving ahead and whether the mental health consequences of the associated pressures merit the anguish. I admire his combative nature but also found his position humorous.
There would have come a time when I would have inserted myself point by point into the conversation to correct statements made to prove his points. I have decided of late to let him vent and only interject if he uses an inappropriate word or disrespects unnecessarily. I enjoy a good rant as much as anyone, but I know on this particular topic the seed of his discontent is the fact he has lost study halls to practice for the looming PSAT.
It’s interesting, though, how much he likes to talk about a subject he disagrees with passionately compared to something personal involving friends or girlfriends. The teenager goes into lockbox mode, sharing no details. Whenever a question is posed of a personal nature, it’s like he has “nothing,” “all good,” and “I don’t know” on repeat.
I have also learned to not wade into these waters unless necessary. He shares personal stuff on his timetable, but when it comes to sharing a position on a general topic he’s always willing to jump atop a soapbox.
When a video or text comes in from Carson’s education team, I stop whatever I am doing. For one, I know a video is usually something to be excited about.
When a phone call comes in from Carson’s school, I also stop whatever I am doing, but there’s much less excitement. This is rarely good news and typically involves a report of some issues. As enjoyable as the video texts are, the phone calls are the opposite extreme and cause anxiety.
The most recent video last week was of Carson running in the high school football stadium with his middle school academic team as part of a school pep rally. On a hot day, Carson was running hard with his hooded intermediate school sweatshirt on because it seems to bring him peace. The first time I watched the video at work I did not have the volume turned up, but I could see him trying hard and participating in some sort of relay. Later, when I got a chance to watch and listen to it, I could hear Carson’s teammates cheering him on. It was special.
About a week later, I was having a random conversation in the grocery store with a parent who introduced me to her daughter who was also in middle school. She knew of Carson despite being in seventh grade. It’s a big school, but I think Carson stands out a bit. Everyone seems to know him.
It occurs to me Carson’s disabilities are becoming more obvious as he gets older. This reality doesn’t bother me. Pam and I understand what we have in our Carson. There are limitations. There are different expectations. There are concerns. There are physical restraints. He cannot talk.
However, there are also cognitive strengths. There are unique abilities. There are daily sources of inspiration. There are more positives than negatives. There is incredible potential. We just don’t know everything yet. We are wandering through this journey inspired but uncertain. What I do know is Carson overcomes more in a single day than most do in our entire lives. His incredible social anxiety is crippling at times. I feel his concern in his hand each morning when we walk up to school and he grabs hard on to my hand. As we approach, he uses the other hand to grab at the inside of my elbow. He’s having a moment of doubt, a glimmer of terror at the thought of going into school. The feeling is fleeting it seems when we encounters a friendly face at the door. Despite this obvious consternation, so far this year every single day he has let go and walked in, a few times even with a smile and a wave but usually just with his head down and no further interaction. I walk back to my car each morning after dropping him off feeling relieved and proud.
All these emotions make last week’s video so special. The short video featured other kids who Carson most likely never associates with or even acknowledges in the most general sense cheering him on. This is empathy, support and positivity on full display in our youth. I can’t speak for all the fellow students he encounters on a daily basis, but I see great things in these kids. It could be due to his intense disabilities they pity him and want to help him. I am fine with that if that’s the case. Maybe they see potential and want to just get a smile from him. Maybe not.
This saying from the National Autism Association comes to mind. I hope my son’s classmates and teachers see and feel this way. It says, “If all you see is Autism, Autism, Autism, you will miss loving, smart, funny, sweet, insightful, unconditional, empathetic, uniquely observant, impeccably talented, ever so intelligent and capable of creating extraordinary change in the world.”