What sort of parent doesn’t want to see their young adult take flight? After all, it’s the natural order of things. It’s true all parenting is challenging, but watching your grown child step out into the world is one of the hardest parts of the job. Still, the stressors are different for parents of young adults with intellectual disabilities. Take my 24-year old son David, for example.
The missing part of David’s puzzle is an inability to read facial expressions and body language, a sort of emotional blindness that can leave him vulnerable to the unscrupulous types who would prey on his innocence. When David’s two big brothers made their minds up to leave the nest, my husband and I said, “Great. It’s time to go live your own lives.” But at age 24, David is still upstairs in his room, doing whatever it is he does on the computer every night. I don’t ask because it’s none of my business. He’s a grown man now, only very different from his older brothers. So is he happy upstairs alone? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know I’m not easing him out the door the way we did his brothers.
Here’s the difference, when Max and Eric left home, they stepped into a broader circle of support—friends, lovers, social groups, business associates—a brand new community to prop them up as they made their way in the world. For David, it’s not like that. When he moves out, his circle of support will shrink. He is a social loner who prefers it that way. The phone doesn’t ring for him at our house; it never has. And yet… he’s working hard at his low-wage job, saving his money for his first apartment. It could happen because it’s what he wants more than anything. And when David really wants something, he goes for it. Where does he get this confidence?
The boy runs like a deer.
And it’s easy to trace his ability to its starting point.
What began with his joining Special Olympics Track in middle school gradually blossomed into a spot on his high school’s Varsity track team. These positive experiences helped develop him into a three-time marathoner who trains year round—solo. When he runs, he says, nobody asks him questions he can’t answer. When he races, the playing field levels off and he’s just out there, a regular guy, running somewhere near the front of the pack.
So if the day comes when it’s time for him to leave, will we let him go? His father and I are his legal guardians, and Oh, God, it will be hard. But here’s the thing: a close look into David’s quiet life has given us a glimpse of the countless decent people out there who are open to the many different ways of being human. People like the volunteers at Special Olympics who know a bit about human decency.
Over time my husband and I will become only two people among the others in our son’s life. And despite our persistent efforts to help David manage it, he will be the one to determine how he will live it. He has earned the dignity of risk and the decisions he will make for himself are the ones that will see him through. Special Olympics enabled the first step of David’s journey, and when the time comes, we will let him go.
- Glen Finland is the author of Next Stop: A Memoir of Family (Putnam, 2012)
A Summer 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
For more info: www.glenfinland.com <http://www.glenfinland.com/>