"Oliver, can you go in the playroom and get all the bowls that we used for popcorn last night and put them in the sink for me? I want to wash them."
And then I barely even remembered to hold my breath as I watched my boy leave the kitchen. Nik and I paused what we were doing, looked at each other and smiled, both thinking the same thing. When he returned a minute later to deposit three bowls in the sink, we remembered that there was a time, not so very long ago, when we could not have imagined such a request being such a simple every day thing.
There was a time when Oliver was much younger and the list of things he couldn't do seemed so very long and I wondered if I would have to teach him everything. When he was young I felt in such a rush to beat the ticking clock of development. It felt like a race. And then, we decided to step off the race track and it was scary.
I won't say that there weren't plenty of moments along the way when I questioned what we were doing -- or rather, what we weren't doing: the OT, the intensive speech therapy, the behavior therapy. We didn't have a lot of models to look to. Most of the people we knew in our community with kids similarly affected by autism were doing their best to fill their days with all sorts of therapy while we chose a radically different way of life. We chose going to the river, baking muffins and working in the garden over schedules and routines.
I also can't say how our life would be different if we had made other choices along the way, if we had chosen the more well-trodden path. But I can tell you that the most important thing we learned along the way was to balance issues of person-hood and quality of life with "progress" -- whatever that means. In this, we were lucky to have found a host of role models and advocates. Today I look around the internet and see that alternative ways of looking at what it means to be autistic are everywhere and how happy this makes me!!
I often remind my kids that we are a team. That when one of us needs something, the others are there, ready to give. We each have challenges and we each have strengths. And what a joy it is to see Oliver, who sits at the very center of our family, fully inhabit his place on the team. So many years ago when I struggled with Oliver's diagnosis, I wish I could have envisioned the day when Oliver would turn, at the last second, to grab the lid to the box of raisins so he could close it before putting them away without me having to say a word. I wish I could have immediately grasped that these things would happen as a matter of course, without having to be taught, because we all learn as we go through life. I wish I could have imagined a time when Oliver would go each morning and sweetly cajole his late-sleeping and perennially grumpy brother out of bed and down the stairs for breakfast as I flipped pancakes in the kitchen waiting for my boys to take their seats at the table.