“Your son is amazing!”
That’s what a woman said to me at a reception the other day. Jonathan was doing some volunteer work for an organization that helps autistic teens and adults develop social skills and friendships through filmmaking. They were having a film premiere so I tagged along with Jonathan to see the group’s final films.
The woman, a mom of one of the teens, spotted me standing next to Jonathan, made her way over to me saying, “Some people have that spark, that something that sets them apart and your son has it. We just love him.”
Similar scenarios like the one above keep happening to me. People who have worked with Jonathan or interacted with him seek me out to let me know how much they enjoy or appreciate him. They mention his wit, talent, generous spirit, and humble authenticity.
This outpouring of appreciation wasn’t always the case. In his youth, he was the one that was invisible and ignored. Many avoided talking to me about him because they just didn’t know what to say about the kid who was “different.”
Why has there been such a dramatic shift?
The short answer, I believe, is that Jonathan is finally comfortable in his own skin. He no longer feels ashamed of who he is…in fact, he considers being on the autism spectrum one of his greatest assets.
It’s taken a few decades for him to find his own “amazing” and until that happened, he had our family’s unconditional love and support to see him through. Not once, did we EVER try to change who he was or forced him to “fit in.” We never thought it was his place to change, just the opposite, it was that he was in the wrong place. That’s what we put our energy towards changing.
Our first move was finding a school with teachers who embraced his learning style and accepted him for who he was. They didn’t penalize him for the way his brain worked. They nurtured and believed in him. They proved to him that he was smart and talented. And guess what? He became the school’s “student of the year” and went on to graduate from college with honors.
Based on his interests, we looked for opportunities to involve him in activities that could result in his own personal achievement. And nothing had a greater impact than theater. When he showed interest in (and a talent for) acting, our family became immersed in community theater. His successes on stage transformed him and his new found confidence in his abilities and worth spilled over into his everyday life.
Theater also started Jonathan on his career path. Today, he is a member of the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and is represented by the top San Francisco Talent Agency. Jonathan’s worked for many clients doing voices for a theme park, video games, toys, children’s CDs, audio books, and apps.
I’ve transitioned from “mom” to becoming his “wingman.”
I’m the person he can trust to provide protective support as he pilots through every phase of his adulthood.
He’s the reason I started Geek Club Books nonprofit. I wanted him (and others on the autism spectrum) to have more opportunities to do what they do best. Jonathan’s branched out and has been able to add storyteller and public speaker to his resume because of his advocacy work for autism acceptance. He and another member of our autistic team did our first Marvel comic-like autism assembly for elementary school students. The school counselor contacted me afterwards to let me know how amazing (there’s that word again) Jonathan and James were. Their ability to make a deep connection with the students led to great conversations back in the classroom. She felt they helped their students learn to be more empathetic, understanding and inclusive.
In the past, Jonathan was fearful of failure and not fitting in—but in spite of those fears he persevered and never gave up on himself (and we never gave up on him). Today, he feels free of the need to be “typical” and is setting his own pace for growth and success. He’s purposely stepping out of his comfort zone and putting himself—his own true self—out into the unpredictable, chaotic world. Now that’s amazing.
Check out the entire issue 12 of Zoom Autism Magazine! The Diary of a Mom family shares what family means to them and how they support each other. The issue talks about what inclusion looks like and companies that are doing it correctly.
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