The road trip

J. Katz


Last Wednesday, I took Robbie up to Oswego for a college visit, his first. Nate came along for the ride, mainly to take pictures of toilets. He assured me he had only two on his list. One, the renovated McDonald’s in Fulton and another in Liverpool, outside of Syracuse. However, once in the car, he informed me he had 18 photos to take in Liverpool. I put the kibosh on that plan and, after Nate briefly whined and pretended to cry like a baby, we were back on course.

SUNY-Oswego was a pleasant surprise, a beautiful campus on the shores of Lake Ontario. It was important for Rob to feel comfortable, so I was extra-sensitive to Nate’s volume and behavior. Not much more sensitive than usual; that would be impossible. He whispered to me when he wanted to borrow my iPhone to check eBay for old Disney videos he’d once owned. Quietly (and repeatedly), he asked if he could go to the bathroom.

It’s rare that this trio of Katz’ travel together. Rob is mostly involved with High School friends and is the family member most likely to be embarrassed by Nate. It’s fine, completely understandable. I didn’t want his first college visit upset by Nate.

We sat for a short movie, then a talk, then a full tour of the buildings and grounds. Nate was great. He kept it under control, honed in on men’s rooms like a hawk and stood with me a bit apart from the group. The one time he spoke loudly turned out, as it usually does, to be the most memorable moment of the trip.

We were all in a residence hall elevator, approximately 10-12 people, quietly headed down. Nate was looking out, and I could tell he was going to say something. The signs were there: his eyes flickered, his face moved just slightly, his brow crinkled.

“I see dead people.”

It was absolutely hilarious and appropriate to the situation. Was it a comment on the tomb-like quiet? Did he really see dead people? I laughed but also asked Nate to lower his voice. I was worried about what Rob thought.

When we got out of the elevator, Robbie came over. He was smiling and everything was fine.

The other memorable moment of the day brought me back to the beginning of our journey through hyperlexia. When Nate was diagnosed, we learned to break down our speech into clear literal commands. “Get dressed,” was too vague for him. “Put on your shirt, put on your pants, put on your socks,” that was more his speed.

We stopped for lunch at The Red Sun, a downtown Oswego restaurant. I slid into one side of the booth, next to the wall, with Rob next to me. Nate was on the other side. As we waited for the check, I asked Nate if he could pass my glasses to me. I had left my brown sunglass case where I’d originally sat.

Without hesitation, he stuck two fingers in my Diet Pepsi and a thumb in my water and slid them my way. The water-glass toppled over and spilled out.

Old me would have been pissed off, but that was long ago, before the life changing perspective of having an autistic child. I had to laugh. Of course, I should have said pass my sunglasses. Even I could see how confusing that was.

It was such a nice day that I didn’t even think about the missed opportunities that define some of Nate’s life. He’s not going away to college, he’s not preparing for an independent existence.

But that’s not to say it won’t happen. I’ve never put limits on his potential and his successful first year commuting to college is proof that the unexpected can be achieved.

Maybe he’ll be on his own at 30. Could be.

From Mission of Complex

To share your personal stories of how autism has affected your life, your family's struggles and triumphs, email them to info@autismsupportnetwork.com to have them shared here


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