Back Seat Driver

Filed Under (Adam, Autistic Self Advocacy) by Estee on 11-02-2012

“This way!” Adam says firmly from the backseat of our car. He points to the direction he wants me to turn as he declares it. It’s not always safe for me to see where he’s pointing while I’m driving. I am asking him to tell me whether to go left, right or straight.

He’s usually directing me to the local grocery store he prefers. He likes to go almost every day after school. I’ve turned my grocery shopping into a daily routine, and generally buy only what we need for dinner that evening. It is not only turning into an exercise in frugality — buying only what we need — but one where Adam now shops for himself.

Adam was getting a little fixed on the one grocery store, so I mixed it up — Loblaws, Brunos, the “big store,” the “little store,” and the “dollar store.” I decided to shake it up a bit when Adam got fixed on Ginger Bread cookies at Brunos. Adam would need to buy a ginger-bread cookie, preferring to look at it rather than eat it. Once our cupboard was getting full of Gingerbread Snowmen, Christmas Trees and Stars of David, I had to ask myself what I was going to do with them all — make a house out of them or just say no. I ended up doing both. He soon tired of the cookies, thank goodness, and moved to the deli section, picking tender pieces of steak, big lean hamburgers and veal schnitzels. From there, he’s moved to different stores.

We don’t always need something from the grocery store, of course, so I’m finding other things to do. I realize that Adam, while he seems to be a little foodie, also just likes doing something after school before he goes home. We can go out to dinner, he goes skiing once a week — he loves that. He needs the outside world. He’s so anxious to take a bite, and his explorations seem to begin with a routine.

“That way,” he points. He’s leading me toward the little store. No matter where I am on the road, he knows the direction. Sometimes he even just wants to drive around. Sometimes I don’t feel like it.

“We’re going home now,” I say. He whines in protest.

“That way!” he insists.

“It’s time to go home,” I say with a melodic voice laced with an I’m-not-flinching tone. I hear his red, goose-down-filled arm shuffle, pointing. He looks like the 1960’s kid who can’t move in the snowsuit.

“This way,” he says pointing to the left. I turn my head and our eyes mirror defiance.

“Home time,” I say, keeping it clear. I’m holding my breath hoping that my simplicity will help avoid crying or whining. Sometimes Adam gets upset, although his protests are generally abating as he I notice he’s beginning to learn how to negotiate with me. If I say it’s dinner time, he may tell me what he wants to eat instead of being fixed on going to a store. “We’re going home now.”

“Pizza!” he demands.

“Okay, Adam, tonight you can have pizza.” Well, he can if it’s only once a week.

He’ll accept more, but I do often give Adam a lot of choice, especially if he has decided to “dance” with me and negotiates for what he wants (in fact, I’m thrilled about it). I do want Adam to take a bite out of the world and savour it. I do want him to learn how to negotiate, and he seems to be learning it all on his own.

I suppose I don’t mind having him as my bossy little back seat driver right now. In fact, I remember the days when I longed for him to boss me around — to talk to me. I’m even at the stage when I’m demanding a please and thank-you from him. Metaphorically he’s no longer in the back seat. He’s pushing his way, as he should, right up to the front.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.