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The Long Corridor Ahead

Filed Under (Acceptance, Anxiety, autism, Parenting, Transitions, Travel) by Estee on 11-03-2012

Adam jumped up and down in the airport waiting area, furiously flapping his hands over his head and humming loudly.

“Go ahead, Adam,” I said with people looking but trying not to stare. You know what I mean. People are generally pretty good about it. Human beings are wired to pay attention to the distressed, and we take it on when others are not feeling well.

“Jump now because on the plane we will have to sit,” I muttered out loud. There is part of me that needs to justify his actions. I want to “give permission,” to validate it. I feel if I responded aversely for the sake of sparing everyone else, I would increase the anxiety in the room for everyone, and I’d stigmatize my own son. I’m always trying to do right by Adam. I’m not sure if this was right, though. I wonder if I should just let it be and not say anything, which I then did for the rest of the delay. I felt the pressure of the eyes upon us.

Watching my son’s anxiety ratchet up isn’t easy. I like to solve all of his problems for him, I’ll admit. Yet here in public, I had to let him be, and guide him when I could. There was little I could say or do to appease this anxiety — this need for him to just arrive and walk right on the plane. I turned on the Timer on his iPad. That worked for a bit. A walk, the bathroom, a treat at the store. Our bag of tricks and distractions wasn’t working in the usual way. Trying to explain the reasons for the flight delay didn’t seem to help. It just made Adam angrier. He understood what I was saying. He just didn’t like it.

For a brief moment, I absorbed the negative part of anxiety. I stopped myself from getting angry and firmly asked, “Adam do you want to get on the plane, or go home?” I don’t usually give up, but I was about to this time. He stopped jumping with his square Buzz Light Year lunch box flapping in his right hand while his left was in the air.

“Get on the plane!” He looked at me assertively. He was certain.

“That’s clear,” I said. So we moved to the front of the line. The attendants were understanding and scanned our tickets.

“We’re not quite ready for you to board. It may be another ten minutes,” said the male attendant. He smiled empathetically.

Adam stood squarely facing the long walkway that leads to the airplane door. He could have bolted down but he didn’t, and I was not about to hold him back. I simply coached him in a very soft voice that no one else could hear: “We can go soon Adam, when the man tells us we can go. We have to wait here until the man tells us we can go.” I repeated like a soft Buddhist chant.

As I stood behind Adam, his lunchbox looking like a little briefcase, I had a flash vision of him as a young man. I began thinking of the times he will face delays, and not getting what he wants when he needs it. Likely, an expression of seriousness passed over me. I was thinking of how now is the time I really have to focus on helping Adam with patience and the many inevitable delays and disappointments of life. As I wondered if I was up for the task, I was looking at all the other faces in the waiting area; all the impatient ones. Adam manifested the frustration of everyone in that room. Maybe we say he hasn’t learned to “emotionally regulate,” but we all have to continue to practice patience.

“Okay you can go,” said the attendant, finally. Adam walked calmly down the corridor and once to his seat, he was all smiles.


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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 (www.taaproject.com), 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.