What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? I whipped my red Honda SUV out of the driveway, loaded with ASD kids, spewing gravel, and headed west on Farm to Market Road 1431, gateway to the hill country west of Austin.
“We’re gonna die!” screamed Zero, pulling his cap over his mullet. He was sitting shotgun, navigating with my iPhone. There were five of us in the SUV, teens and young adults heading for Home Depot and garden seeds. Behind us near the corner of Bull Run Road was AIM Ranch, our freshly-opened summer camp, providing rewarding and individually challenging activities, and hopefully jobs, for adults 18 and over with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I punched into the traffic stream and switched on the Beatles All You Need Is Love. Ben, my 25-year-old son, jammed his fingers in his ears. Hyperacusis. “I don’t agree with that song,” said Jed, a shaggy blond kid who dominated any space he occupied just by sitting in it. Jed had come to AIM Ranch to shadow a veterinary technician for two days. “What else do you need?” I asked. “Goats.”
“Hey, li’l critter,” screeched angel-faced Polly, picking up on the animal theme. She’d collected dozens of beaded necklaces and wore them all at once. “I want you to spell mouse. M-O-U-S. But what's on the end? A tail! Hey, hey, hey …”
“Annoying,” said Zero. He’d been institutionalized since age 11. “Because of my belief system,” he explained. And a prescription drug overdose. His dad wanted him to be a missionary, but Zero believed in reincarnation, and the sooner the better. At 21, he hadn’t connected with a competitive job. AIM was his last chance. "If he can't make it here," his dad said, “it’s tough love, the streets."
“Look on the bright side,” said Zero. “At least there’s something to worry about.”
I just kept the nose of the SUV pointed for Home Depot. It was Day One Hour One at AIM Ranch, and I’d never been on board with anything like this cargo of kids. What did I expect? Certainly not a second family. Certainly not to fall in love.
Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., facilitates planning, vocational programming, and funding for An Independent Me (AIM Ranch), a campus in the Austin, Texas area for teens and young adults on the Autism Spectrum, www.livingwithmeaning.org. This is the first in a series of occasional dispatches from the front. AIM Ranch is expanding and has openings for two additional residents. Call (512) 528-5485.