I was asked once, "How does one person change the world?" My reply was, "One story at a time". The diagnosis of autism was a rare one back in 1988 - only 1:10,000 affected. Then the numbers grew.....and people began to notice.
I went from trying to explain autism to those Matt met each year, to really promoting autism awareness through my stories and speaking engagements using this little website. We now reach almost 4 Million people, and though most people know the word autism now, we still have a long way to go to make this world a better place for those on the spectrum. Thank you for helping me promote autism awareness. Thank you world, for your willingness to listen and to open your heart and mind to the mysterious puzzle that is autism.
Missed an update? That's Ok because I have added a new page - Transitions Update - so you can catch up on all that has happened. The link is in the heading bar or you can just click here - Transitions Update.
Here's our latest report:
July 1, 2014
Warning - Please keep in mind that not everyone should try this . . .
For most of my life I have driven a vehicle with a stick-shift, I like the feel of being in control and being an active participant in the driving experience. With that said, I have this thing about allowing my son to shift...
I can't remember exactly when it started, but I have had my Jeep - a 2006 - for each "practice session" so I am guessing close to 8 years now.
I know how badly Matt wants to drive - and he could as he knows how, but the 'what ifs' for emergencies and being able to speak to a police officer, or report an accident prevent him from actually driving. Maybe someday - but not just yet.
Knowing of his desire to drive I often let him take control of the shifter - his hand on the stick, my hand over his, and we drive that way. After several moves I ease my hand off but never more than a few inches away just in case. It's something that gives him great joy and it's something only I do with him.... it's our thing.
Today hippie hubby and older son had to work on my Jeep and the repairs went into overtime leaving me no choice but to use hippie-hubby's car - a 2013 Veloster - to take Matt grocery shopping. Such a huge difference in how it responds, the quietness of the drive, the boost of the turbo - yep, I can see why he loves this car.
This was just the second time I have driven it and it was such a joy. Matt was waiting for me outside his apartment, kicked back in one of his patio chairs, when he saw the car and smiled.... then he saw it was I who was driving and that grin extended from ear to ear. I knew that look...
He hops in and away we go and I lift my hand off the shifter about 4 inches and Matt slides his hand in underneath - no words were spoken. I placed my hand over his firmly and taught him each gear and we took every back street we could on our way to the store - lots of stops and starts, lots of 1rst, 2nd and 3rd gear. Matt started getting the hang of it. When we got out of the car at the store I handed him the remote control key and showed him the pictures for each function. Matt locked the car, smiled at me and handed back the key.
At checkout Matt was in one line and I in another - a much slower line. He was ready to go and I reached in my pocket pulled out the key and called over to him, "Hey Matt, why don't you go ahead and unlock the car and put your groceries in - I'll be out in a few minutes." I tossed him the key. He caught it and looked at it, then at me, and smiling - wow that smile!!! - went happily out the door. His face was so lit up as he walked out, head held high and his 'man on a mission' stride . . . I couldn't help but smile too.
When I got to the car Matt was just completing his task and then helped me as usual with my bags (such the gentleman, my Matt). We got in and I asked Matt to start the car. Push button and varoom! Then I showed him how to do put the shift in reverse. He made several attempts but couldn't quite get it, so no problem, I did it for him and said, "Whoa, you were so close - just off by this much" showing him a distance of about a half inch using my thumb and forefinger. He smiled and nodded (which meant, 'OK, not too shabby').
As we pulled out of the congested area and hit those back streets again, Matt took control of the shifter and my hand was hovered above his but didn't touch. All I had to do was give the voice command, "2nd, Matt...... 3rd.........neutral" and Matt would comply. He sure was proud of himself and it was obvious the activity made his day.
Such a little thing, shifting the car, but he knows that I would never do that if I didn't trust him. He knows that I believe he can and it's the underlying communication - the silent kind made up of facial expressions, body language and gesture - that makes the activity a special one.
Being autistic doesn't mean low IQ or physical disability - it's a problem in communication. Matt can't drive on his own because of the communication deficit - something we are working on every day. I hope someday he will drive all by himself. I hope he keeps believing that he will someday because the motivation is wonderful when I am trying to teach him how to communicate with others. He pushes himself a little harder because there's that desired goal in the horizon.....
Some day, Matt, someday you will sit in the driver's seat and take your mother for a ride . . . . and maybe you will let me shift for you... because you and I both know shifting is the best part of driving.
And I know Matt will trust me to do it right.
A 2-part series on Matt, his mom, and life on the spectrum.
Autism Daily Newscast - February 2014
The new book is off to a wonderful debut - number 1 on Amazon "Hot New Releases"! I am speechless. Kindle
Also now available on the Barnes and Noble's Nook! Release date - Feb 23, 2014
"Autism and the World According to Matt is a collection of inspirational short stories about a moderate to severe and mostly non-verbal autistic child and his journey from diagnosis to living independently.
5.0 out of 5 stars
- Shannon Penrod, Host, Autism-Live
Autism Light, created by Alan Stokes, recognizes heroes in and for the autism community.
Honored as an Autism Light #13, on August 11, 2011". There are over 250 Autism Lights now and the number continues to grow. It's an honor to be a part of this autism awareness campaign. Thank you, Alan!
Many thanks go out to AUTISM SUPPORT NETWORK for publishing so many of my stories over the years. Below are few of the more recent ones -