I’d finished the book and now sat in the waiting room, at least 1 ½ hours of forced inactivity looming ahead of me. And me without my journal or my knitting, the mainstays of my personal “go bag.” I hadn't expected that the first appointment with the psychologist from Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation would be so long. I’d come with Allen toting only my Kindle and my I-phone and now I waited for my son, who sat with Dr. Puelo on the other side of the door.
I am not good at sitting still. There are always a million things that draw on my time, and today was no different. I thought about driving back home—30 minutes—and back again—another 30 minutes—but it seemed nonsensical. And I didn't know Broomall well enough to go exploring.
So I sat. The room—a sea foam green, softly lit, with deep green coaches—pulled me in. I closed my eyes; I prayed. I prayed for my son Allen and for his future, for the years of struggling at school and being bullied, for the car accident that had stolen his father. I prayed for him and his quirks and his ideas and his spirit. It had taken four months for us to get to this appointment, jumping over various government hoops. I hoped that OVR would be able to help Allen with job training and mentoring.
I must have drifted off, for there was no one else in the room to see me, just the soft strains of classical music piped through an old black radio—of all things—and the faint hum of traffic on Lancaster Road. Despite my hectic life and Ron’s ongoing illnesses, I felt at peace. This appointment today would hold an important key to Allen’s life.
I picked up my Kindle, searching for a good “read.” Lately, my tastes have run to historical fiction, particularly when past and present intertwine. Susanna Kearlsey’s A Desperate Fortune could be just the ticket. I downloaded a sample and began to read about a slightly quirky protagonist who was socially awkward, liked to solve puzzles, and was unsettled by crowds and loud noises. Someone, I thought, just like my Allen who claims the noises from a turned off television bother his ears and who draws intricate mazes on kitchen napkins. I read further. Even before I got to the word, even before I saw it spelled out and let it sink into my brain, I knew. I knew what Dr. Puelo was finding out. I knew what I had always known but had never put a name to.
Asperger’s Syndrome. It made sense.
I don’t care much for labels, but they can be useful. I used my I=phone to find some famous people who had Asperger’s: Daryll Hannah, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln. Bright and creative people. Allen was in good company.
Allen looked tired when he came into the waiting room, Dr. P behind him. “I made him work his brain pretty well,” the good doctor said and smiled. I already liked him. He was going to make a difference in Allen’s life. We set the date for the next appointment.
On the way up 476 three hours ago, I had tried to prepare Allen a bit and encouraged him to keep an open mind. He comes from stubborn German and Powhatan people. I had also told him that he didn’t need to talk about what he had discussed with Dr. P. But we had not sooner gotten in the car when Allen turned to me. “I like him,” said my son. “But there’s one thing I don’t get. He says I have autism. I’m not even sure what that is. He says it’s probably mild, like asp…” he struggled with the word.
“Yeah. That. Just what is it?”
Ah, another characteristic of AS, Allen’s unshakable belief that I and his siblings could always supply the answers. I explained that AS was a neurological condition, just the way his brain worked, and that very bright and creative people had it. I named a few.
“Okay,” he said. “Doesn’t sound too bad. It’s not like I’m gonna die from it.”
I smiled. It was more like my son would find a way to live. As we turned onto I-476, I realized that I could finally drop the guilt I’d carried about my youngest child. Ron’s car accident had not destroyed him. As a neurological condition, Allen’s AS—like many things in life—had always been out of my control. In fact, I’d done a pretty good job of helping him cope with a brain that functioned differently. No alcohol, no drugs, no risky behavior. Sometimes wrapping aluminum foil around his windows to keep out “sound waves” was not risky, merely his way of dealing.
“I don’t like labels,” he said to me, something he’d heard me say often enough.
“I know,” I said. “Me neither. But sometimes the label helps you get what you need.”
He nodded. “Okay.” There was a pause. “I always just thought I was unique.”
I smiled. “You are.”
“So whatever Dr. P says, or whenever anyone says I have Asperger’s, I'm just gonna think ‘unique’”.
Of course. He always has been. And he always will be.