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For Immediate Release

Twenty Minutes: Reflections on Living with Autism

March 26, 2018

Recently, my wife and I took our son, Steven, to meet with a speech therapist he last saw in 2014. We reconnected with her on Facebook, and found out she was open for some sessions. 

Steven has autism. He is non-verbal and communicates by RPM or Rapid Prompting Method. It essentially gives him a board with the alphabet on it, and prompts him to respond and spell words to communicate. It is a relatively new technique and few people are adept at it. To make it more complex, even with this tool Steven doesn’t always choose to communicate with people; he needs to feel a certain connection. Even as his family, we usually get simple “yes” or “no” responses. Complete thoughts and sentences are something we rarely get.

As such, we re-engaged this speech therapist. At the first session, Steven and the therapist picked right back up communicating as if the absence had been four minutes instead of four years. It was great to watch—something we rarely experience.

After about forty minutes of the two of them discussing a history lesson, the therapist stopped and said, “We have twenty minutes left in the session; is there anything you all want to ask him?”

That really hit me. Twenty minutes. Think about that for a second. If you and your 17-year-old son had almost no communication, and then all of a sudden you were given twenty minutes to talk to each other… what would you say?

It’s a question most people never have to deal with.

Here are just a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind:

Would you like to have more friends?
Why are you so scared of the cat?
Do you like your summer camp and therapy?
Or could you do with less of that?

Are there shows you want to see on TV?
Are there certain songs you’d like to hear?
What’s your greatest, secret passion?
What’s your deepest and darkest fear?

Are there cities and states you’d like to visit?
Are there special sites you’d be excited to see?
Do you even know what autism is?
Would you like to ask God “Why Me?”

Are there actions we can do to support you?
Can we remove barriers that cause you strife?
What else can we do to make things better?
How we can help you have a happy life?

Would you like a girlfriend of your own?
Someday, would you like a kid or two?
What do you want to do after high school?
Is there a job or career you really want to do?

What do you want the future to hold for you?
Where do you want to live in a few years?
What’s so funny when you’re laughing?
Is there some reason when we see your tears?

Would you like new experiences to keep you busy?
Do we help you get enough rest?
Do you know how we feel when we fail you?
Can you understand that we try our best?

Are you truly happy with your life?
Or do you feel like it’s all so unfair?
Do you know how much we love you?
Can you feel how much we care?

There’s so many things we would love to ask you.
I honestly don’t know where to start.
Most parents have forever; we get 20 minutes.
It’s enough to break the strongest heart.

The twenty minutes came and went. We did get a few answers. Ultimately, though, even if Steven is unable to provide the answers, I believe that someday we’ll all be with the Almighty. Maybe we can ask Him. The nice thing about eternity is that it’s a lot longer than twenty minutes.

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