Monday night, sitting by myself in a dimly-lit church hallway, waiting on a meeting to finish behind a closed door, musing.Remembering that he’d been thrown out of his older brothers’ preschool before noon on the first day, as he’ wasn’t ready’. Remembering the call later that month from preschool #2 – fourteen years ago – that they thought DS3 was different enough to be ‘checked’. That was the first time the Autism word was used.Remembering the reading, the 3-hour drive to the all-day University evaluation, the alphabet soup that followed: PDD, IFSP, FAPE, IEP. Remembering walking quiet, compliant, beautiful DS3 down the drive to meet the short, bright-yellow special-needs bus that picked him up each morning for the ride across town.Remembering the realization that a trust fund might be needed, the shifting of the internal compass and the career reorganization that followed, so that more money might flow.Remembering all the reading which lead to this conclusion: that early socialization, over and over and over and over, might ultimately make the difference in outcome between a self-sufficient adult and one who forever relied on his parents and brothers. But how to do it? Sports seemed out of the question, and I know nothing of music. Then, as kindergarten repeated, another thought came.A long meeting, and more musing, still sitting in that very familiar church hallway with its 1950s plaster and 1960s linoleum and the faint smell of mildew.Remembering the years-ago Saturday morning meetings with the little boys in the orange shirts, and later the longer Saturday outings, the boys now wearing blue…all while DS3 transitioned from a special-needs school to a mainstream classroom with an aide…then a classroom without an aide. Transitions marked with Lego sets, which would be flawlessly assembled before bedtime.Birdhouses and model rockets. Maps and compasses. Summer camps, but no birthday parties, as there were no friends to invite, no names he could remember. School trips, he and I eating alone while the other kids flocked together and chattered.Walking behind him every mile on every hike. Both of us attending every meeting, every Monday. Other kids at circular tables; DS3 standing in the back. Leadership requirements, service hours. Pancake breakfasts.The sole candid shot of DS3 in the high school yearbook: sitting alone on a bench, thinking.Of all things, finding out he liked to aim and shoot. Age nine: five BBs around the bulls-eye, the best at camp. Archery, and next year a .22 rifle. Then the more rigorous Shotgun merit badge, where the other boys would stop and watch the big quiet kid from whom no clay pigeon was safe.The service project, which demanded his interaction with other adults, and his peers. Concrete. Power tools. Bureaucrats and forms.Finally, the sounds of a meeting breaking up, chairs pushing back. Laughter. Laughter? The door opens and DS3 comes out, wearing his uniform with the required twenty-one merit badges, at age 17 taller and bigger than both his Dad and the men who follow him out.They shake his hand and then mine. As of moments ago, DS3 has another lifelong label: Eagle Scout.
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