Note: From time time we get a post written from the heart by a parent. Chuck Hancock has written for us in the past - he's a single Dad who takes great care of his son, who is turning 16. When he writes about Charlie, he has a lovely sign off - "I am the luckiest." And we are lucky to hear from him on this, his son's 16th birthday. Happy Birthday, Charlie! Kim
By Chuck Hancock
Seems like it has been more than three years since I submitted a contribution to Age of Autism. Last time was 2018. Before then 2016 and 2011. I read such profound and insightful submissions here, and not for a second do I think what I submit is even, remotely, in the same worldly realm (been watching a lot of Marvel movies recently) of interest and thoughtfulness of the pieces I read. I write mostly about "Dad Stuff."
Charlie, my son, is an autism spectrum kid. My only child. Being on this journey with him for all these years has, to the surprise of no one reading this, been filled with awesome highs and crazy lows. That said, I cannot for a second imagine living without him.
Charlie is 16 today. I think back to the day I turned sixteen and can vividly remember how things were. I had friends, drove a car, went to parties, played sports and had interests in girls. Charlie shares none of these things with me. He wants nothing more than to have friends. He struggles so socially. Breaks my heart. It is easy for me to be mad and angry about this. I battle this frequently. But then I breath, and pray (though likely not enough), and just try to get back to that place. That place we all are. That place where we would do ANYTHING for our children.
Navigating the education system over many years has been a challenge. Whatever "education" is these days. IEPs, occasional bullying, and just trying to find an environment for Charlie which he enjoys. Unlike many parent friends of mine with typical kids, his Mom and I are not perpetually fretting over his future. Colleges, careers, etc. A small blessing maybe.
Charlie, his Mom, and I all moved from Maryland to Florida last fall. Saw the writing on the proverbial wall. Big step. Divorced, we try our best to co-parent. Which included choosing a school. We picked a school here for Charlie to go to 9th grade. A very small, private school. Billing itself as one for children with "learning differences." Disaster. While he attended in person, not a good fit. While report cards showed A's and B's, I knew Charlie was not really benefiting from being in this school. Even there, sadly, there were some episodes of bullying. New kid at the school, etc. Just so hard to find a good fit when it comes to schools.
So for this year we found a new "mainstream" Christian-based school. With the exception of last year, Charlie has always been in a mainstream school. Each student has a student mentor. Very cool. Also private, and not quite as small, Charlie seems to be doing better. Having Charlie in a regular public high school, with two thousand plus students, would be too overwhelming for him. So now, third school in three years. Tough for any child. Albeit A's and B's in 9th grade, admission testing for the new school showed what we believed to be the case; Charlie really did not learn or retain too much knowledge in Algebra I. Not much better in reading. So, discussing this with the school and with Charlie, his Mom and I decided to repeat 9th grade. Charlie was ok with it. New school, to him, none of the other students would know he was a 16 year old 9th grader. As this is not a public school, we fortunately had the opportunity to do this. I am hopeful the extra year will help. If for no other reason than to provide Charlie one more year of maturation.
This past year or two has, of course, been amazingly challenging for all of us. Virtual schooling for most, together with the lockdowns, closures, and the myriad of other crazy mind boggling "rules." I feel so awful for the kids at the majority of schools. Plus, the stress on familities. I fear all students, especially those with special needs, have essentially lost a year. The masking rules particularly trouble me. With communication being estimated to be between, depending what study you read, between 75 and 85 percent non-verbal, these children, particularly the little ones, are, I am afraid, really suffering. It breaks my heart.
I suppose one silver lining to this year-long 24/7 incessant vaccination talk is that, unlike many reading this, millions of people are being exposed to information about vaccine safety for the first time. Information they heretofore never spent a minute, or few anyway, thinking about. I sincerely hope that this increased knowledge and exposure will act to save millions of children from future vaccine injury. That would be an amazing thing.
I am guilty of being a total "overposter" on Facebook. For years and years, when posting things about Charlie, I would often add "I am the luckiest." While certainly true, I found myself during this past year, one, not posting nearly as much about Charlie, and two, when I did, not mentioning "the luckiest" part. This past year has been tough for Charlie and me. I get it, he has spent the last few years sailing through that wonderful time, also known as puberty. And, I remember, he is 16. We simply do not do as many things together as we did when he was younger. I get it. I was 16 once. But still, I miss our times together.
So, I work hard to shake it off, and try to stay focused. On whatever I can do to make things better for Charlie. Some things fail, some succeed. And, try, at the same time, as some as suggested, to do things that will make things better for me. As noted, Charlie craves having friends. To be in more social environments. It is just so hard for him. I just pray I can help him be in a position to meet a few kids he can hang out with, do things with.
I am in such awe and admiration of all parents of ASD children. As well as with all other-type disabilities and disorders. While not given a choice, we are all together in this journey. For life. While it can be so heartbreaking at times, luckily there are times of sheer joy. Today, Charlie being 16 is indeed a joyful occasion. Each passing year is accompanied by heightened emotions. One year closer for me not being here; one year closer for Charlie being here without me.
Still the luckiest,