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Joseph came home from school today and marched right upstairs to his room. “Do NOT come into my room, Mom!” he instructed me — several times over the next hour. I could hear him in there playing with his trains, which we hadn’t gotten around to putting away Sunday evening. Toy trains, being something of an obsession, are usually restricted items, so naturally it was exciting to Joseph to enjoy some forbidden fruit.

When an autistic child tells you to leave them alone, it can produce a perplexing amount of emotions. I went back to the educators who came to our house for a first look at Joseph at age two, when we initially suspected autism. When they left, they instructed us to stay in his face — to not allow him to retreat into his own world. No private time, they told us. And I remembered how Temple Grandin’s mother would let her stim (in this case, I believe it was flap her hands) for only half an hour after school before hauling her out and putting her to work, learning and interacting.

I am an introvert. How I prize my alone time, my quiet time. If I don’t get it for a while, I have a melt-down; I really do. I believe that Joseph has at least the same need  for space — if not more.

This was one of those times when I wanted the manual. You know the one: It’s entitled How to Work with your Autistic Child for Their Maximum Benefit.

Joseph’s gone in and out of train obsession since he was two. It used to freak me out, as it was all he’d think about, talk about, watch on video, and play with. That’s why we ended up restricting toy train time.

This time it’s slightly different. Though he’s thinking about trains and talking about them a lot, he’s engaged in other parts of life, as well. He’s goofing around with our dog and he’s wanting to go swimming and he’s excited about an upcoming vacation.

Still, trains rule all as his Number One Love.

We have a friend, a guy in his 50s, who loves trains like that. He had an extra room built on his house which he filled with model train tracks and trains. On weekends his buddies come over and they run trains together. He goes to train shows and train exhibits. His wife comes along sometimes; she thinks it’s funny.

Joseph will be like this man. There is just something about trains that he adores. It will be a lifelong passion. It’s not the way I choose to spend my life,  but it is his life, not mine. I can live with that.

Joseph is not figure-outable right now. In some ways he seems to be regressing: train obsession, more jerky movements than usual, more flapping. In other ways he seems to be progressing: finally enjoying board games, understanding his math, conversing a little better. Maybe this is a healing regression. Maybe not. I’m tired of trying to figure it out.

I don’t have the manual, so I think I’ll just release it and leave God’s business to God.

I’m even going to give myself some slack for not hauling Joseph out of his room and making him interact with me this afternoon. Sometimes you’ve got to put aside the (imagined) manual and go with your gut. My gut said, leave him be — though I did have him put away the trains this evening.

When you have a kid with autism, you can drive yourself crazy really easily. I never should have taken him to that noisy concert when he was a baby; I should have had him diagnosed earlier; I shouldn’t have done vaccinations; I should never let him have too much alone time.

But there is no manual, and much of Joseph’s, and perhaps anyone’s, autism is simply not figure-outable. Because of this, I try hard not to should on myself. Part of the divine perfection of this journey is that I’m learning to release things more easily rather than to flog myself with them repeatedly.

All this to say, Joseph and I had a lovely, quiet afternoon. We came together at times but also spent a lot of time apart doing our own thing.

And God said, It was good.

Or, at the very least, I did.



Autism and Spirituality: the Dance